Allure of the Seas 2012

Alas, a mere two weeks after our return from the amazing Allure of the Seas, I finally share the last post in my not-so-liveblogging of our cruise. Hey, my tanned Caribbean skin has not yet completely faded back to Canadian winter white, that’s got to count for something, right?

So why exactly were we on this cruise? As you know, I’ve been a Play Ambassador with Fisher-Price for more than a year, and Fisher-Price has a partnership in place with Royal Caribbean International. They work together to provide great services and entertainment to families on RCI’s cruises. For example, the Fisher-Price Toy Lending Program consists of a collection of developmental toys, specifically created for infants and toddlers ages 6-36 months, where you can borrow and exchange toys for a new activity every day. The Royal Babies (ages 6 yo 18 months) and Royal Tots (ages 18 to 36 months) programs offer fun interactive playgroup sessions for families with the youngest cruisers, developed by early childhood experts at Fisher-Price. (For more about the Royal Babies and Royal Tots programs, you can read Caroline’s post on the Fisher-Price play blog.) We were given this amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity along with the newly formed American counterpart to our Canadian “fisherpricemoms” team to see the Fisher-Price/Royal Caribbean partnership in action.

For us, the real joy of the cruise was not the chance to get away from the kids (which would have been easy, given the great Adventure Ocean kids’ clubs that offered quality care late into the night each day at no additional cost – and the kids loved it.) Cruise ships are known for having great entertainment for adults, but I don’t imagine many of them cater to families like the Allure of the Seas does. Here are a few of the amazing entertainment options for families and kids of all ages:

  • The Ocean Aria show. (Though not specifically a family show, we loved it so much that we sat through at least a portion of it several times. It’s a mix of high-diving, comedy, dance and trampoline with the most amazing pool I’ve ever seen – the floor of the pool moves up and down, so that one minute it’s shallow enough for the performers to run across it and be ankle-deep in water, and then the next minute a diver from a board 10m above the surface plunges deep under the water. Imagining a pool deep enough to accommodate high divers on a ship is awesome enough, but I couldn’t get over how amazingly the pool could change depths without looking any different.)
  • The How to Train Your Dragon ice show. (I may be in violation of some Canadian cultural law in having never brought my children to an ice show before now. Watching one of our favourite movies brought to life in an amazing ice show was the perfect way to spend a part of our extra day at sea when Hurricane Sandy cancelled our scheduled port day in Jamaica.)
  • Fisher-Price Little People birthday party (Tristan may be at the top edge of the age range they were aiming for, but I’m grateful to say that he’s still young-hearted enough to enjoy these things without (much) self-consciousness. And Lucas has traditionally been terrified of just about any of these mascot-style characters, so he was pretty much desensitized to them by the end of the cruise!)

    Birthday party show

  • Dreamworks character breakfast with Alex the Lion, King Julien and Mort from Madagascar.

    King Julien

  • Power-wheels racers for little ones
    Lucas the mad driver
  • Dreamworks sail-away parade and end-of-cruise parade on the Royal Promenade (I was impressed by the production values on this — it’s no ordinary “characters wandering by in a line” sort of parade!)
    Allure of the Seas - ship tour
  • Pop-up circus and play sessions (These were great – staff from the Adventure Ocean kids’ club would set up informal stations with a giant chess set, some musical bells, a dominoes set, some skipping ropes, hula hoops and other playthings and just let the kids – and grownups! – help themselves.)

    Rockin' and rollin' on the Allure of the Seas #fisherpricemoms #fisherpriceonroyal

  • Dreamworks character appearances (the program said this was Puss-in-Boots from Shrek, but the boys say that Willie grew big and got a hat and boots so he could join us on our cruise!)

    Puss n boots

  • ImaginOcean blacklight puppet show
    Untitled
  • Cupcake decorating class (another great way to not think about dodging an approaching hurricane!)

    cupcake class

Pretty impressive, eh? But don’t just take my word for it – you can check out Tristan, Simon and Lucas’s perspective on the cruise on their entry on our Fisher-Price Play Ambassador blog post! Click away but make sure you come back – I’ve got one exciting detail left to share.

While I wish I could share with you something exciting like a chance to win your own week in paradise on the Allure of the Seas, I can’t quite pull that one off. However, our generous friends at Royal Caribbean International do have a lovely gift package to share with one lucky reader containing an Allure of the Seas bath robe, insignia towel and luggage tags. You’ll have to supply your own cupcakes. 😉

Want to win? Here’s how to enter:

  1. This is a giveaway for a goodie bag from Royal Caribbean International and the Allure of the Seas.
  2. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post (not on Facebook or Twitter – comment must be on this post!) and tell me something you learned about the Allure of the Seas from one of my liveblogging posts.
  3. For a bonus entry, “like” Royal Caribbean on Facebook. (This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.) You MUST leave a comment telling me you liked RCI in order to qualify. If you already like Royal Caribbean on FB, just say so in your comment.
  4. This giveaway is open to Canadian and US residents, excluding residents of Quebec. (sorry!)
  5. This giveaway will run until 11:59 pm EDT on Friday November 16, 2012.
  6. One winner will be chosen at random from all comments posted.
  7. If you win, you must be willing to provide your full name and contact information to me to share with Royal Caribbean, who will send the prize package directly to you.

Good luck and happy cruising! :)


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I ran out of cruise before I ran out of things to say, so I’ll be continuing the live-blogging of our Allure of the Seas vacation for a few more days weeks. Consider it live-blogging by tape delay!

I wanted to wait until I’d had a chance to properly explore the ship before I told you about it. It really is a mind-boggling ship, not just a floating hotel but a floating town with a population greater than Manotick. At capacity, the Allure of the Seas can carry nearly 6,000 passengers and more than 2,200 crew members, and on our sailing there were about 5,000 passengers — but you never really get a sense there are that many people on the ship. The Allure was designed with seven themed “neighbourhoods” designed so people would find a place comfortable for them and gravitate towards a particular area. The neighbourhoods are:

  • the Boardwalk
  • the Royal Promenade
  • the pool and sports zone
  • the Vitality Spa and Fitness area
  • Central Park
  • the youth zone
  • the Entertainment Zone
Allure of the Seas - ship tour

Looking down on Central Park from deck 15.

The first order of each day for me was the hunting and gathering of coffee. We could have ordered (no charge) room service, but I liked the excuse to be up and moving through the ship while virtually everyone else was asleep. Our cabin was at the aft of the ship on deck seven, so we’d slip out through a door at the end of the corridor at the far aft beside one of the massive rock climbing walls, walk down a level past the Boardwalk area and down another level onto the walking/running track that circles the ship on the fifth deck. I enjoyed using the running track to traverse the ship (and I always seemed to be on the wrong end of the ship from my destination) because I liked the open air and sea views. Each morning I’d walk to midship and enter the Royal Promenade area, which to me was the heart of the ship.

It was on the Royal Promenade that one could watch the two (impressive) Dreamworks parades that celebrate the beginning and end of the cruise, or one of the fun street dance parties with themes like Latin Night or 70s dance party. It was also my favourite place to snag a coffee in a take-away cup without having to spend money at the Starbucks on the same deck. On the Royal Promenade, you’ll also find shops, including a GUESS accessory boutique, and several bars and cafes, including the neat Rising Tide Bar that moves up and down between decks 5 and 8. Coffee in hand and boys content with bakery treats, we’d either go back to the running track to watch the sun rise off the aft deck or back to our balcony. I already miss those seaside coffees!

waiting for the sunrise

Watching the sun rise from the running track on the aft deck.

Our favourite place for breakfast was the Solarium Bistro up on deck 15. They had the best variety of breakfast choices laid out buffet style – everything from bacon and eggs and smoked salmon to toast and waffles to fruit to granola and cereal. I’m hungry just thinking about it! Ordinarily, the Solarium area is for adults only (which is a bit of a shame, because it does offer the best views from high up on the front of the ship) but during breakfast and lunch the kids were welcome.

Allure of the Seas - ship tour

Breakfast buffet at the Solarium Bistro.

Allure of the Seas - ship tour

Looking out over the Solarium - no kids allowed!

The sport and pool zone is also up on deck 15, another of Allure’s various neighbourhoods. We spent a LOT of time up there, enjoying the sea air and views while the kids splashed in the H2O zone or played in the kids’ pool. I loved being out in the open air, and there were plenty of places to sit and relax. I’d heard on some cruise ships that deck chairs were hard to come by, but there were always some available for us and I loved the fact that there was even kiddie-sized ones! Another wonderful feature of the sports and pool deck is the handy self-serve frozen yogurt on a cone station.

Allure of the Seas - ship tour

You'd never guess there were 5000 passengers on this ship, would you?

How’s this for cool? Some of the hot tubs are cantilevered out over the side of the ship, 200 feet over the ocean!

Allure of the Seas - ship tour

If you’re looking for a nice quiet place to sit quietly and feel a little solitude, the ship’s impressive Central Park is a great place to hang out. Can you believe they have a park the size of a football field with thousands of live plants? Imagine grabbing a yummy roast beef sandwich (with a ladle-ful of gravy inside, mmmmmm!) from the Central Park Cafe and sitting on a little patio to enjoy your lunch in the park and watch the people walking by — ON A SHIP!

Allure of the Seas - ship tour

Horticulturalists tend to the plants in Central Park.

Another one of our favourite neighbourhoods on the Allure was the Boardwalk, featuring a fully functioning carousel. (A carousel! On! A! Ship!) No doubt this was Lucas’s favourite area to hang out. They have a beautiful set of sculptures showing the creation of a wooden carousel horse from wooden block to final product, and each time we walked by Lucas oohed and aahed over the sculptures. “This one is my favourite!” he’d tell us each time.

Lucas's favourite

Also on the Boardwalk are a couple of shops, including a candy store, a hot dog stand, a fun photo studio, an ice cream parlour, and two restaurants. We never did manage to try Rita’s Mexican Cantina (which is a shame considering how much we like Mexican food!) but we did enjoy the complimentary breakfast at Johnny Rockets one morning.

Johnny Rockets breakfast

The food on the ship is a mixture of included options and extras. You can easily dine all week without paying an extra cent by enjoying meals in the main dining room, the Windjammer buffet, or many of the little cafes such as the ones on the Royal Promenade (good for breakfast sweets) or the Central Park Cafe (amazing salads and sandwiches.) For a few dollars more, you can try a gourmet dining experience at one of the signature restaurants including Chops Grille, 150 Central Park, and Izumi Asian Cuisine. You generally need a reservation for these smaller restaurants, but there are these very cool interactive displays near all the elevators that are like giant iPads, and you can check to see at any given time if there is currently room in any of the specialty restaurants. We didn’t make it to any of the specialty restaurants for dinner, but we had an absolutely amazing family-style Italian lunch at Giovanni’s Table one day. My mouth still waters when I think about it. Look at this adorable photo our friend Juliette from Fisher-Price caught of me and the boys enjoying our lunch.

Dani_Boys

And here’s one of all five of us – so terrific to get a photo of all of us!

DondersFam

I have to say, I was intimidated about the dining on the cruise before we left. I knew there would be two formal nights, and when they say formal they mean it — gowns and tuxes, or at least suits and pretty dresses. And even on the casual nights, I was anxious about having to dress the whole family for dinner. We just don’t do formal — I had to buy Simon a white collared shirt for his first communion last year, and had nothing equivalent for the other two boys. In the end, it was much less of a deal than I had feared. For the casual nights, I dressed them in khakis and polo shirts, and for the formal nights we ate at the Windjammer buffet where the non-fancy people hang out. I did love dining in the main dining room, though. The wait staff were incredibly kind and solicitous of the whole family, and the food was a-maz-ing!! And they were super-quick – I wish it were as easy to get in and out of a restaurant back home. Due to one boy’s fickle tummy, we only actually made it through an entire meal all the way to dessert on the very last night of the cruise, but we were treated like royalty each time we showed up. I think of all the things that impressed me about the Allure, high on the list was the service in the main dining room.

I’d tell you about the spa and fitness area of the ship, but, um, I never made it up there. I’m sure it’s as lovely and impressive as the rest of the ship, though, but the damn ship is so big that there just wasn’t enough time to explore it. And given the choice between a vigourous treadmill workout and lazing in a deck chair watching the sun rise, I’ll choose lazing every time. Besides, when you traverse the enormous Allure (she’s 362m, more than a third of a kilometer from stem to stern, or more than 1100 ft for you imperialists) a couple of times a day in search of various adventures you can easily justify an extra cupcake or two without hitting the fitness club. Well, I certainly could!

Okay, I think this is the penultimate post in this series. I will need one more blog post to tell you about the entertainment options for kids and adults and the amazing kid programs on the Allure. Do you have any questions about our trip or about the Allure of the Seas? I’d be happy to answer them for you!


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When we headed out on our amazing cruise vacation, the only sand we were thinking about was supposed to be between our toes and maybe washed out of our bathing suits. When we woke up last Tuesday morning to hear about Tropical Storm Sandy making its way to Jamaica and working its way up to hurricane status, I was (more than) a little worried, but although we passed within 150 miles of the storm it never really got too stormy. I think we crossed in front of it just in time to miss most of the rain and by the time we skirted south of Cuba on Thursday morning, the winds were incredibly strong but the skies had mostly cleared.

Imagine my surprise when I went to check the weather back home in Ottawa on the internet on Saturday and saw the ‘storm of the century’ warnings. Who the heck gets hit by the same hurricane twice?

From a weather perspective, our trip ended better than it started. Our first day at sea was a mixture of sun and cloud, and our day in Labadee Haiti was more cloud than sun, but we only saw a sprinkling of rain. In fact, considering we passed so close to a hurricane, we really didn’t see much precipitation at all. And the last few days were sunny and clear – exactly the kind of weather you’d want for a Caribbean cruise.

Last sunrise at sea

The seas were very rough (well, they seemed rough to me!) in the middle of the week, but with the ship running full steam ahead to get away from the storm, I think the Allure just plowed through most of the waves. I understand the waves were in the 12ft range, which is pretty impressive to watch as long as you don’t mind a bit of a ride! We could certainly feel the ship rocking but it was never enough to be disconcerting. The roughest ride of all was the last night as we approached Fort Lauderdale. The wind was howling and spraying mist from the prow all the way to the aft of the ship – for a while I was trying to figure out how I was feeling rain and seeing the moon and stars at the same time! I don’t know whether the seas were particularly rough because of Sandy farther north, or if the captain just wanted to give us a memorable ride, but that last night the ship was rocking and lurching so much it was hard to sleep – doors were swinging and hangers clinking in the closet and the ship itself was making alarming creaking and groaning noises. If that last night had been the first night, I may have decided to stay on land at Haiti and just catch the next flight home instead!!

According to the latest forecasts, Hurricane Sandy will now pass mostly south of Ottawa and then hook back up over us again in a few days. I’ve been watching reports of rain and wind from friends in Toronto today, but the wind is relatively calm here and though the skies are grey, no rain is yet falling. I can’t quite tear myself away from the news reports and am sending all my best wishes for everyone in harm’s way tonight.

I’ve got a few more posts yet to write about our amazing time on the Allure even though we’re now firmly back on dry land. But really, I feel like I never left the ship. Since when does my living room rock and sway like the ship? And that’s without a storm raging outside!


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I had wanted to do this as a wordless post, with just the photos to illustrate our day in port in Cozumel, but I can’t quite do it. The pictures do tell a great story, but there’s fun in between the photos too.

We wanted to do something once-in-a-lifetime for our day in Cozumel (yanno, aside from all the other once-in-a-lifetime experiences this week!) and we were eyeballing the “swim with the dolphins” excursions – but they are not cheap. It would cost something upwards of $300 for the five of us, and then we found this really neat excursion called “Everybody Loves Rays” where you get to pet and feed stingrays and do a bit of snorkeling. Half the price of dolphins, just as once-in-a-lifetime. Perfect!

If you ever find yourself looking for an excursion in Cozumel, I highly recommend Stingray Beach. Unless of course you are squidgy about stingrays, which it turns out that at least half of our party are. Oh well. You get to stand in knee-deep water and they are so tame they come up and bump your legs in a way alarmingly similar to the way cats will rub against your ankles. We hand-fed them, and then moved to deeper water where we could hold them and even kiss them if we wanted (none of us were THAT interested in the stingrays.) They provided everything from aqua shoes to snorkel gear to fish to instructions – you really just have to show up with your bathing suit.

Lucas lasted about four seconds in the water with the stingrays, but luckily Beloved wasn’t too interested in them either. Simon was a bit afraid that their suctiony mouths would suck him right up (stingrays are way cool!) but he warmed up to them eventually and Tristan was his usual stoicly adventurous self — willing to play along but showing no real signs of whether he was actually enjoying himself save for a tell-tale little smirk. I loved it!

After the stingray encounter, we suited up in snorkel gear. I have never donned snorkel gear before, and getting myself and the kids tricked out was a challenge on dry land. Between keeping Lucas afloat (we were all in life vests) and Simon on track, I didn’t actually manage to put on my own mask or get my face in the water but I still managed to swallow about my body weight in seawater. Beloved, on the other hand, had a great time with the snorkeling and saw all sorts of colourful tropical fish. I figure that’s a fair trade.

Then we all five had a blast just chillin’ (actually, cooking) on the beach and playing with the other residents of Stingray Beach – the parrots, the iguanas, and the hermit crabs. There were about a dozen of us on the excursion, and can you believe the boys came in first, second and third place in the hermit crab races? Way too much fun! And unlike some excursions I’ve heard about where they take photos and then badger you to death to buy them for the price of your first born child, the staff here were all great and I was happy to spend $50 to get our CD of 20 or so photos and a framed print.

So that was Cozumel in words – here it is in photos!

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico


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A cruise had never crossed our radar as a potential holiday. Even though my parents have loved a few cruises in the last few years and regaled us with their adventures, it would still never have occured to us to even consider a cruise vacation for the family. However, I have to tell you — I could get used to this!

Here’s five things that have surpassed my expectations to become five of my favourite things about cruising with Royal Caribbean International in general, and the Allure of the Seas in particular.

1. The food

five things 2

Oy. They say you can easily gain 10 lbs on a 7-day cruise, and I can totally see how that would happen. From the snacks to the specialty restaurants, there is always food and it is always yummy. Our particular favourites are the guacamole, chips and self-serve ice cream in the Wipeout Cafe, the early-morning coffee and pastries in the Park Cafe and to my great surprise, dinners in the main dining room. Also worth a mention: the fresh food in the Solarium Bistro (my favourite and most scenic breakfast) and the family-style Italian dining at Giovanni’s Table. And the salads and roast beef sandwiches at the Park Cafe. And the kids want me to tell you that the buffet at the Windjammer Marketplace is awesome! (You can see, we are in no danger of starving!)

2. The ship

five things 5

The Allure of the Seas is a marvel. I’ve loved exploring her and getting to know her. Funny, I usually have a very good sense of direction, but she’s just so darn big that my internal compass is completely off. I start off heading for the Boardwalk thinking I’m on the Promenade heading aft only to have Tristan point out I’m headed forward. And if you do end up at the wrong end of the ship, it’s a substantial hike to get back where you thought you were going! But I’ve loved taking different ways to common destinations so I’ve gotten to see just about as much of her as I think is possible. Some of my favourite places are the deck just off the running track on deck 5 that looks back over the ship’s wake, the Boardwalk with its carousel and kid-friendly shops, and the splash-and-fun zone on deck 15 with the pools, hot tubs, kiddie splash zone and great views. I even love our compact little stateroom, which is much larger than I expected and is equipped with so much smart storage that even we are kept organized. And more than anything, I love our private balcony, although I also love just about any bit of the ship where I can lean on a rail or grab a deck chair and just stare out at that mesmerizing sea.

3. The crew

five things 3

Our room attendant, Andy, is always smiling. Every second night he makes an animal out of face cloths for the boys. Some nights he’s holding the remote control, and some nights he’s wearing kiddie sunglasses. The boys love it! Every single crewmember is cheerful and friendly, and the staff in the main dining room go out of their way to make us — all five of us, kids maybe even moreso than the adults — feel welcome and at home. There are 2,200 crew members from more than 70 countries throughout the world, and not a one of them has ever been anything less than welcoming.

4. The fun!

five things 4

Swimming, rock climbing, surfing, zip lining, skipping ropes and hula hoops, carousel rides, shows – these are just a few of diversions we’ve enjoyed in the last few days. The kids have come to love the Ocean Adventure kids’ clubs, and we’ve had the best time just playing together. Who knew ships were so much FUN?!?

5. The sea

five things

I love the sound of the waves, the smell of the salt, the sight of those amazing, unbelievable blues — I could honestly spend seven full days sitting on a deck chair simply staring out at the sea. I love the gentle rocking of the waves most of all, I think. I can’t bring myself to ignore a glimpse of the sea, and I’m only surprised that being 360 degrees surrounded by it that it is occasionally possible on a ship this massive to forget that you are at sea — even when you are charging full-steam-ahead away from a hurricane! Considering I have a visceral fear of deep water and wide open spaces, it’s odd how truly obsessed I am with the sea. I will miss it most of all.

But there’s no time for nostalgia — we have just docked and watched the sun rise in Cozumel, Mexico! Another day of adventure awaits!!

Okay wait - if we're going to do a sunrise over Cozumel photo, this is better! Ola!! #fisherpriceonroyal #ad


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happy place


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Our beachy day at Labadee, Haiti

23 October 2012 Allure of the Seas 2012

Okay, I’m feeling a little less freaked out about this whole hurricane thing now. Apparently we’re taking evasive manoeuvers which still sound to me to be perilously close to the storm, but as technologically advanced as the Allure of the Seas is, the transporter beams are still in the beta phase so we just have […]

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The one with the hurricane

23 October 2012 Allure of the Seas 2012

We were in the elevator on our way to breakfast when the captain’s voice was broadcast throughout the ship. (He calls himself Captain Johnny. He seems like quite the character.) Anyway, he announced that unfortunately we would not be able to dock in Jamaica tomorrow as planned, on account of the tropical storm named Sandy, […]

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Zipping along on the Allure of the Seas

22 October 2012 Allure of the Seas 2012

We had a lot of fun on our second day at sea with Royal Caribbean International and Fisher Price on the Allure of the Seas today. So much fun, in fact, that I’m exhausted! I will get around to telling you a whole lot more about our ship tour tomorrow, but I wanted to share […]

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Hello from the sea!

21 October 2012 Allure of the Seas 2012

As I type this to you, I am sitting on a pulled-out sofa bed in our stateroom, listening to the sea rush by below us. In case you missed it, we are aboard Royal Caribbean International’s flagship Allure of the Seas, currently at sea between Florida and Haiti., courtesy of our friends at Fisher-Price. I […]

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