Notes From a Virgin Cruiser
I cruised for the first time in July 2011. My husband and I went on a much needed vacation. After talking with a colleague of mine who has been on numerous cruises for suggestions, perusing the Cruise Critic boards, the cruise we booked was on the largest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas. When mentioned to the booking agent that this was our first cruise. Her reaction was, “and you picked this ship? You’ll never want to cruise on anything else!” I didn't consciously book the largest cruise ship in the world. My criteria were, needed to cruise in July (as that is the only time I can take a vacation). My colleague highly recommended that we leave from Ft. Lauderdale, Port Everglades because of its proximity to the Ft. Lauderdale airport (we flew from Boston), ports of call, choice of cruise line – I was aiming for Celebrity, Princess, or Royal Caribbean. When I put all of that criteria into a cruise search, I came up with Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas which departed from Port Everglades with Nassau, Bahamas, Charlotte/Amalie, St. Thomas, and Philipsburg, St. Maarten as ports of call.
When we boarded the ship, I was awestruck. I kept saying, “I can’t believe this big thing is going to move” over and over. Once we disembarked, I kept saying, “I can’t believe this big thing is moving.” As I told people about our upcoming cruise vacation, I kept saying, “we’re going on a ‘big ass ship.” In every port of call, I kept saying, “there’s our big ass ship!”
Immediately after boarding, we were urged to book our shows if we hadn't already done so. I didn't want to overload our schedule. We were on vacation after all. After booking our shows we went to change our seating time. It was a long line, so I left my husband and found the Gym/Spa area and signed us both up for a couple of yoga classes.
We checked into our balcony cabin and fell in love with each other all over again. Although after attempting to unpack, I said to my husband, “it’s a good thing we like each other” as the cramped quarters took a little getting used to.
The Allure of the Seas had distinct neighborhoods, such as Boardwalk and Central Park. Don’t know if RCI was trying to lure New Yorkers or people who just wanted a taste of New York. In any case, neither one looked like the Coney Island Boardwalk nor the NYC Central Park that my husband and I grew up with. We didn't care.
I was skeptical of my first cruise, worried I would get sea sick, not like the food, the food would make me sick, feel that this “big ass ship” was too big and overwhelming. I thought I’d gain lots of weight. I’m happy to say I was proven wrong on all counts. The ship didn't feel too big, I liked that it was large. I didn't feel the food was overwhelming or that I was eating constantly. There was no midnight buffet, the line for the pizza was always crowded and when it wasn't, I didn't want it anyway. I’m not a big hot dog eater, so those never tempted me. The yogurt machine was located closer to the “kids” areas, so it wasn't very accessible to us. (These are not complaints, these are good things.)
It took us a while to discover all the different places for breakfast and lunch. We only ate dinner in the main dining room. We heard about a buffet called The Solarium. We asked one of the greeters in the main buffet area one morning about it, she said, “they serve healthy stuff over there, like whole wheat pancakes and granola.” I heard that and said, “I’m there!” From then on we ate breakfast and lunch there almost every day. It was never crowded, never a long line and the food was great.
I do have to say, I had what I called “port of call anxiety.” The time we were docked at each port was a major source of ogita for me. People told me, if you’re not back on board ship 30 minutes before they are scheduled to disembark, they will leave without you. As soon as we got off the ship at each port, I heard the seconds ticking away in my head and another voice saying, ‘make sure you get back on time.’
Regardless of my angst, I enjoyed each port of call, some more than others. In St. Thomas we visited the St. Thomas Synagogue, which is the oldest continually running synagogue within US territory, bought some lovely microfiber table cloths and went on my favorite shore excursion of the cruise – a snorkel trip to an area where we saw turtles. During the excursion, we sailed to a cove on an old pirate ship, the Doubloon. The water was rough and choppy. Two people got sick. I didn't care. I loved every minute of it. The snorkeling was lovely. I held an urchin that was not spiny, but had suction cups like a star fish – oh so cool. There were power snorkelers on this excursion. It looked like they were swimming with a box fan in front of them which scared all the fish away. I personally think it takes all the fun out of snorkeling, but that’s one woman’s opinion. The trip back the water was a lot less rough and when our sail boat stopped for a few minutes, a dolphin swam around us. I caught a glimpse of a dorsal fin.
I didn't find our other ports of call nearly as exciting as St. Thomas. Our first stop was Nassau, Bahamas. We didn't plan a shore excursion as we thought we’d just go shopping. Unbeknownst to us, it was their independence day and most stores were closed. We took a cab ride over to Paradise Island, tried to walk around the famed Atlantis only to find out the tour was approx $100.00 each. We went to a hotel next door, rented a couple of beach chairs and umbrellas and sat on the beach. On St. Maarten, we booked a beach excursion to the French side of the island. It was nice that we were in two countries on the same day as our ship docked on the Dutch side. The beach was nice, the water was lovely, but the overall excursion felt contrived. We did buy nice watches in town, so we have a nice souvenir from our vacation, in addition to our memories.
We never went into the casino on the ship, nor did we try out the zip line, rock climbing wall, or flow rider. I found the concept of ice skating in the middle of the Caribbean to be a bit much and the hours they had sessions were not convenient to our non-schedule.
I did attend 2 of the yoga classes I signed up for. One class was on a lovely deck outside the Solarium café. The other class I attended was on the helipad! I’m amazed that my hat and sun glasses didn't fly off the ship. I wished I had brought our camera to the class. However, holding balancing yoga poses on a ship with a head wind in my face was a bit of a challenge.
We attended a couple of shows. The production of Chicago was quite good. I’d never seen any of the Broadway productions, only the movie so I was eager to see the Bob Fosse choreography. Blue Planet was a cirque du soleil like show with singing and acrobatics. Other than that, we spent our evenings on the top deck of the ship. We loved the calmness of the water, the wind in our hair and faces, and in the distance, I could see other cruise ships going by. We’d dose off on one of the deck chairs it was a wonderfully calm way to end our evening.
By day 7, an at sea day, I was ready to get off the ship. My husband wanted another 3 days on board. I had enough. However, I get notices from Cruise Critic all the time and read all the articles. I friended Cruise Critic on facebook and read almost all of their postings. I feel like I've become a ‘cruise yenta.’ Would I go on another cruise again? You betcha! However, I’d keep it to 7 nights or less. Does it have to be The Allure of the Seas or the sister ship, Oasis of the Seas? I don’t think so. I’m eager to try out another cruise line and maybe cruise with some friends next time.
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