Yea, a new ship. We booked our cruise while we were on a previous cruise, as you can get few perks doing so. We went for a balcony as about 80% of the cabins on this ship aser a balcony of some sort. We got one with an ocean view, as well, that is why you go on a cruise, right?
A couple of months before we were scheduled to take the cruise, we had learned that the singer Taylor Swift was to give an on-board performance. Now I am not really either a Country Music or Taylor Swift fan, but it was kind of neat that a celebrity was to be on board. Still, I didn't really have much interest in watching the concert - good thing too, as there was no ability to obtain tickets.
As we have done lately, we drove from Michigan to Florida and visited my son who lives in Central Florida for a couple of days prior to the cruise. He lives about 200 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale, so we left the evening prior and found a hotel in Ft. Pierce, about half-way to Ft. Lauderdale.
This was our first cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale, and we found there were three choices for parking; from the cruise terminal, from a facility adjacent to Port Everglades called Park-N-Go; or from a nearby hotel having a park-and-cruise package. All of the hotels that we found that offered these packages would provide transportation to the cruise terminal, but unfortunately, we could not find that any would offer return transportation. OK, so not a big deal to get a taxi, but this was a far cry from our experience in Port Canaveral.
As well, there seemed to be a premium at some of the hotels for their park-and-cruise packages, with one hotel charging $100 additional. In fact, all of the hotels nearby seemed to be fairly expensive.
Departure. We ended up simply parking at the cruise terminal. The parking fee was $15 per night, so it was not that cheap. I really did not like how the parking access worked. You had to go through the congested drop-off area just to park. While it is perhaps convenient to drop your luggage off at the terminal then park, we pack lightly so it is not a huge deal to just park then haul our wheeled luggage into the terminal.
The Allure - what a magnificant ship. We were completely astounded by it's size, and being a new ship, how new everything looked. Even then, the crew was already repainting areas of the ship. Salt-water is not the best medium for steel, and it is really hard to keep everything looking good.
I understand that the goal is to get everyone through check-in within 15 minutes, and the process sure went quickly and smoothly, even with 5,990 guests. Although being Crown & Anchor Platinum members and had priority checkin helped speed up the process, we indeed were through the check-in within 15 minutes. The waiting lounge is one floor up in the terminal, and there were some 1,500 Platinum and Diamond/Diamond+ members and Suite guests, all of which had priority boarding, so boarding took a few minutes, even for us. Suite guests and Diamond were first to board, and we were next.
There were some 8 cruise ships in port that day, including Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, two Holland America ships, and one Princess, Celebrity, and MSC cruise line ship. We were one of the last ships to get permission to leave, so our departure was a bit later than normal.
We did not order any Champagne for our stateroom on this cruise. Not sure why...
Labadee. It's been a few years since we were at Labadee (2002 being the last) and it sure has changed. A pier, zip line, and roller-coaster were all new, as was a new ocean-side beach. The facility was at least twice the size as I remember it from the last time. The straw market was much larger as well.
We enjoyed a swim and lounging on the beach, a cook-out type of meal, and other activities before heading back to the ship. This area was untouched by the 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti, so I cannot reason why some in the news criticized the cruise line for continuing to visit Labadee the weeks and months after the quake. Since the area was not affected by the quake, and that ships bringing passengers into the area purchase goods from the local folks, as well as dropping supplies off in a humanitarian effort, it seems to me it would have been wrong to quit visiting the port. I belive the critics were only out to make a name for themselves without regard that continuing to visit was actually helping Haiti. Well, 'nuff said about that.
Costa Maya. Costa Maya is the name of the cruise facility. The town is actually called Majahual. In Costa Maya we booked an excursion to Chaccohoben to visit the Mayan ruins, which this time included temples. But we were told the temples were used for worship, not sacrifice. The temple visit consists of about an hour's bus ride to the interior of the Yucatan penninsula, two hours at the site, then an hour's ride back to the ship. Note that if you bring a camera, they charge $5 for a CamCorder, but they do not charge anything for a still camera (even if it has video capabilities).
The temperature here, even in January, was in the mid 80s, so anyone worried about cold weather that time of year can rest assured it won't likely happen - at least in this area. There are two seasons here; the rainy and dry season (not summer and winter like in the US). You are in the jungle here, and if you are going in the rainy season (April to Oct), make sure to take some insect repellent. We went in the dry season and bugs were not a problem. But if you forgot bug spray, you can buy it at a drug store in Costa Maya.
Tip #23. Be sure to bring bug spray if you plan on an excursion into the jungle.
We didn't get back to Costa Maya until about 6PM, so we didn't stop for any trinkets in the shops. We headed directly to the ship. However, it was formal night in the dining room that evening, and we didn't feel like taking showers and getting our duds on after kicking around in the jungle. So we went to the Windjammer for dinner and spent awhile in the hot tub. We have been used to formal nights only occuring on sea days, but our cabin attendant told us that if we go to a port after 12 noon (we docked at 12:30), it's considered a sea day.
Cozumel. There were 5 ships in port, the most I have ever seen in Cozumel. That equates to perhaps some 15,000~17,000 passengers in town. We were scheduled for an excursion for that day, but for some reason I realized I forgot to take my medication in the morning, so we had to abort as we didn't have time to go back to the ship and re-join the group. Perhaps I forgot to take the medication due to a subliminal excitement about Taylor Swift; I cannot say.
At any rate, we went trinket shopping for a few minutes but didn't buy anything. So we returned to the ship, took my medication, and then we got a chance to get some nap time (er, ah time by the pool).
The Taylor Swift concert was held in port, and she arrived early in the afternoon. She was not on-board any of the time we were actually on cruise. Only a lucky few were able to get tickets, as many of the passengers on board won tickets and staterooms from various radio contests prevous to the cruise. At any rate, if you went into either Studio B (the skating rink) or the main Theater, you could watch the concert. The huge fans that we are, we stayed by the pool for some additional nap time.
On-Board Activities. More than on any other ship, there is a lot of entertainment and a lot to do on-board. If their goal was to make the ship the destination, then they certainly achieved it. For most of the entertainment venues, you have to get tickets, and since the activities are only offered on certain days, you have to schedule your entertainment. You can reserve your tickets on-line prior to departure, and that is what we did.
The first night we watched Chicago. This is a full length broadway show in the main theater - about 90 minutes long. And it was quite good; I even managed to stay awake for the entire show. Other shows included Oceana, a water-themed show in the Aqua Theater including divers, water dancers, and a couple of clowns. It too was excellent.
Also outstanding was Planet Earth given later in the week in the main theater. The comedy show was excellent (a small comedy club venue), as was the jazz show. The only show that I thought didn't meet the outstanding level of the other shows was the Ice Show. It was OK, but about what you would expect on the other ships having ice rinks. It just was not as outstanding as the other shows. The shows on this ship definately raised the bar on what we had previously seen.
Arrival. The departure from Cozumel was delayed an hour or so due to a post-concert photo session with Taylor Swift, but we were soon on our way and made it back to Ft. Lauderdale without incident. While we were on the cruise, we found that the Crown & Anchor program had changed, and we were now elevated to Emerald status, which is a new level between Platinum and Diamond. Since we will be Diamond at the completion of our next cruise, it really doesn't affect us that much. So far, it doesn't seem there is a lot of difference between Platinum and Emerald, with the only difference I can tell is a complementary soft drink upon arrival. But it is free, so you will not hear any complaints. We will see what else if any Emerald will provide on our next cruise.