Family vacations start with a negotiation. First, we had to decide when to go, and that was not easy. After one grandchild finishes school, of course, and before the other grandchild starts camp. After one son, reimagining his life, takes the LSAT, and before the other starts a new job.
And, yes, Royal Caribbean's Allure is very big, with more than 2,000 staterooms and one deck that is like Las Vegas and another like a theme park. There are four pools, 26 places to dine, 37 bars, a sports-and-fitness complex, a carousel, a zip line, a climbing wall, even a skating rink. Being aboard is not a bit like old-fashioned snooze-in-the-deck-chair, play-a-game-of-bingo and then dress-for-dinner cruising. The modern cruise is less restful and more casual.
For us, the ship's sheer size was at first a bit of a problem — we kept losing each other in one or another of the many dining rooms. With Wi-Fi expensive at $15 a day, and cell service often out of range, we realized that cruisers experienced with megaships sometimes posted schedules on their doors, so everyone would know where everyone else was. We quickly established a routine — eating breakfast and dinner together, checking in midmorning and mid-afternoon. Although there is a camp for kids that is open from early morning to late at night, my grandkids wanted to stay with us. My 6-year-old grandson spent hours in or near the full-size kiddie pool, making new friends, getting out of the water only for another sampling of the free frozen yogurt. Meanwhile, my newly adventurous 11-year-old granddaughter joined her father and uncle on the zip line strung across the ship, eight decks high.
Dining has always been important while cruising, and the food is very good on the Allure.
Within a couple of days, both children were adept at ordering three- and four-course meals. An attentive waiter quickly learned that my granddaughter always had room for another slice of cheesecake and that my grandson loved a dessert called Chocolate Sensation. After dinner, we went to a show or watched a movie under the stars. One night the younger one fell dead asleep in the front row of the full-scale Broadway-style production of Mamma Mia.
Security was tight at all three of the ports in which the Allure of the Seas stopped — Philipsburg, St. Maarten; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and an inlet in Haiti — and we agreed we would undertake one big family excursion together. St. Maarten, the port I didn't know, turned out to be a place to shop for jewelry more than anything else. So we took a boat to nearby Anguilla and played with dolphins at the Dolphin Royal Swim Center. We were allowed to pet the mammals — and got kissed on the cheek by them in return. The five of us have been exchanging dolphin-like cheek kisses ever since.
The days went by quickly during the cruise, yet one week seemed about the right amount of time. At our last meal together, we started planning our next family vacation, perhaps on another ship going to another part of the Caribbean.
My grandson had only one concern: "Nana," he asked, "will they have Chocolate Sensation?"
Know Before You Go
- Megaships are great for the fit. Allure is 1,187 feet long. You walk a lot.
- Make reservations for meals and entertainment. More than 5,000 other cruisers may want to see the same show at the same time.
- Neither dinner jackets nor gowns are needed for formal nights.