On the radio…again…for the last time

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Well, Seth and I have recorded our last Adventures Await radio show. And you don’t have to wait to hear it. It’s at the bottom of this page. And since I recorded the show on my iPhone, there are no commercials, weather or newscasts. We just talk for about 25 minutes about travel (funny that an hour radio show without commercials, weather, newscasts and traffic is only around 25 minutes).

First, an explanation about why this is our last show together. That’s because on the morning KOMO-TV news today Seth announced he was leaving KOMO. That’s sad for us who watch him every day. One of my favorite thing is to carry on texting conversations with Seth while he is on the air in the morning. I know that if I send him a text, he will read it on the next commercial break. And I know that he is probably only going to be getting texts from me because it’s 4:30 am and I am riding my indoor bike. We have had many early morning conversations like this.

Seth is leaving KOMO to become the Director of Communications for Holland America Cruise Line (HAL). In that role he will be cruising…A LOT! But he says we can still text to stay in touch but I won’t know if he’s available like I do now between weather updates because I won’t be able to see him on TV 😀. But we (Kathleen and I) are thrilled for him. I will certainly miss seeing him and doing the show with him.

Our last show was super. It was my fifth time on the show and Seth let me choose the topic so I said let’s do the Top 5 Things we have talked about on the first four shows I have joined him on the radio. You will have to listen to the show to find out what they are but suffice it to say, it’s not anything you haven’t heard he…or I mention before.

By the way, if you would rather hear it with all the music, weather, news and commercials, etc. you can do that on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 pm on KOMO radio AM 1000 here in Seattle or on KOMO Radio 1000 on Tune-in online.

Here’s the show—there are three shows on the page. The latest one is at the bottom of the list: CLICK HERE! I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed doing these shows with Seth. He is a good friend, one of our favorite people and maybe the only person who loves talking about travel as much as I do.

A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth.—Charles Darwin

Just a friendly reminder-get insured!

Screen Shot 2019-11-30 at 8.58.00 AMThought I would put up this post-Thanksgiving note to remind all my traveling friends why it is so important to get travel insurance when you travel. Take a second and read this story (that you may have seen already, as it got a LOT of press) about a couple who were being “held prisoner” by a hospital in Mexico, then close the window and come back here. If you haven’t read this before, you should know that the couple eventually got to go home, thanks to the coverage on Good Morning America (GMA). Actor/Director Tyler Perry saw the story and paid their hospital bill.

If you don’t know Tyler Perry or think you could get coverage on GMA you should definitely make sure you have travel insurance when you travel. I can’t believe the number of  people who think that travel insurance is only for those who might have to cancel their trip and want to be reimbursed. I have had clients tell me that “We can afford to lose the money on this trip if we can’t go.” But travel insurance covers so much more.

For instance, a good travel insurance policy should cover the following:

  • Trip Interruption (example: covers you if your flight gets cancelled or rerouted).
  • Trip Delay (example: your plane is grounded due to weather and you miss your cruise—they will get you to your ship).
  • Missed Connection Baggage & Personal Effects Baggage Delay
  • Emergency Medical & Dental Expenses (this one is the biggie, especially if you are over 65 and from the USA).
  • Emergency Evacuation & Repatriation (they will fly you home if you are sick or injured).
  • Accidental Death & Dismemberment
  • Travel Assistance & Concierge Services (The best companies provide this—for instance, they will help you find a good doctor in another country).

The biggest of these benefits are the Emergency Medical and Dental. As the couple in the story found out, costs for medical treatment can vary drastically in other countries and on cruise ships where a doctor visit and an aspirin can run over $100. If the folks who were rescued by Tyler Perry had travel insurance, they would have contacted their insurance company who would have made arrangements for payment with the hospital and everything would have been just fine. But they didn’t.

BIG MESSAGE—in bold so my friends who are US citizens and over 65 all see it: If you are sick or injured outside the USA, Medicare will NOT pay your medical bills. You are on your own. I had an 86 year old client going on a horse tour in Israel who didn’t get travel insurance???

I watch for these kind of stories and I am building a long list of them for the next time a friend or client tells me, “We never get travel insurance. We will be fine.” Well they might not be. I am sure the couple in the story didn’t think they would finish their vacation with 14 nights in a Mexican hospital. And the people who tell me they “never buy travel insurance” may not have Tyler Perry to bail them out.

Traveling anywhere in the world involves some risk. You could always opt to spend your life cowering under your bed. —Joe Haldeman

A personal note—why I am so lucky

Almost forgot I wanted to write this post today. Shame on me. Originally I thought it wasn’t going to be about travel but I guess in a way, it actually is. The trip of my life. It was 22 years ago today that my travel life was born.

Today (November 24) is what we (Kathleen and I) refer to as Lucky Day. It’s the day that back in 1997 my close friend Jocelyn came to my office in downtown Leavenworth to cheer me up. I was in the middle of a divorce that I was not sure I wanted. Jocelyn (who always speaks the truth—the most truthful person I know) told me to get over it. To move on! She said that I should look at a new website she had found called Northwest Personals. This was before Match.com or pretty much any other dating site. Jocelyn had the weekend before met someone on the site and was going to meet him that coming weekend.

She suggested I take a look and at least see if there was someone that I could at least correspond with. So I said I would. She wanted to make sure I did so she got me logged in and looking before she left. I looked for about five minutes before I saw this listing:

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This one interested me. See the part about the Mariners. That got my attention. I was (and kind of still am) a Mariner fan. Then, much more then now. But that’s what I noticed.  As I read it, this person sounded perfect. The only problem was, this person was more than 100 miles away but I said, what the heck and decided to respond. That was the ABSOLUTE BEST DECISION I HAVE EVER MADE IN MY LIFE!

Why, because Kathleen (the love of my life, my travel companion) placed that listing. My first wife hated traveling. Kathleen and I love traveling. At that point I had been to exactly two countries—the United States and Mexico (I went while in high school to help an orphanage that my church supported). The only places in the US I had been to were for business meetings. Since that day, she and I have traveled to forty countries and 30 states together and loved pretty much every minute of it.

So you see, this really is about travel. That day I met (online) the incredible woman who would become my partner is so many things, but definitely in travel.

Travel is a lot like love.—Alain de Botton

STOP DOING THIS!

AdobeStock_242985570Just a short blurb today about a subject close to my heart.

I think I have mentioned the column written by Chris Elliott before. Chris runs a website and is an advocate for travelers. He and his people help those who have had problems or been scammed while traveling. He has helped people who have need a refund from an airline, had to bail from a bad vacation rental or had any of hundreds of other travel problems.

This morning Chris and his staff take a stand on a subject that is near and dear to my heart (being six foot two)—reclining seats in airplane economy sections. His attitude is EXACTLY the same as mine…STOP DOING THIS! Stop reclining. He makes some incredibly important points about why people should stop reclining (it isn’t because he’s tall or doesn’t like it personally) and I hope you will take a minute to read his article which you can find by clicking here.

You can’t be truly rude until you understand good manners.—Rita Mae Brown

 

Why we changed from hotels to AirBnBs

Screen Shot 2019-11-10 at 3.18.12 PMYesterday we were talking to someone about using AirBnB or just vacation rentals instead of hotels and I was telling them why we have pretty much stopped staying in hotels and just stay in vacation rentals now. 

Here’s why we have pretty much switched to AirBnB type rentals:

  • Different rising times. Most of my regular readers know that I get up early (really early—like 3:30 or 4:00 am) and Kathleen likes to sleep in (6:30 or 7:00). When we are in a hotel room, all I can do is lay there and look at the darkness but when we are in an AirBnB there is usually a living room where I can go and sit and read, work on my photos from the vacation we are on or get dressed to go workout. 
  • Check-in is usually a piece of cake. We have done 15 AirBnBs so far and have only met humans twice. Usually they will send you a key code you can use on the front door or on a lock box where the key is.
  • Check out is just as easy. You just leave the key or lock the lock and you are gone. If you are nice person, you can e-mail or text them and let them know you are out so they can send their cleaning crew.
  • You can sometimes get in early. We have had great hosts who will text us when the unit is ready. One guy in Tucson sent me a note around noon telling us that if we wanted to get in, the place was ready. I love that.
  • You can communicate entirely by e-mail or text. No phone calls which is my preference. I think I have only talked on the phone to three of the 15 hosts we have stayed with.
  • You can save some money by eating some meals in the unit because most have kitchens and dining rooms. Even if you just have breakfast (we have done that) it can save you money or be easier. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a coffee maker you have access to.
  • Most AirBnB’s have a washer and dryer which is great if you are traveling on longer trips. That means for a two week trip you only have to pack one week’s worth of clothes. When we did our New England trip last year we had been on the road for ten days before we got to our AirBnB in NYC. After four days in NYC we were going on a cruise. It was great to get on the cruise with clean clothes.
  • They are GREAT for groups. One of the best things about an AirBnB (as opposed to a hotel) is that when you are traveling with other people and you aren’t doing anything, everyone is in the same place. You have a nice living room to sit in and just talk, especially if you are coming from different places and haven’t seen each other in a while. Plus you have a fully-equipped kitchen you can do breakfast or snacks in. It’s a great way to go. We had an AirBnB in Dublin last summer that slept 8 so when my brother, his wife, their daughter, my sister-in-law’s sister and her husband and daughter joined us, we got to have this experience. It was great to have a place to just sit and talk…or play games. 

Some tips for booking an AirBnB

If you haven’t booked one yet, I will tell you some tips that Kathleen’s daughter and son-in-law (who have used it for years) told us when we started booking them and that we have learned from booking ours. These rules may not apply to all rental sites. My daughter has used VRBO, we never have. We use AirBnB pretty exclusively.

  • Always look at the photos of the unit. If there aren’t photos of most (if not all) rooms, move on.
  • Read the reviews. AirBnB will not allow owners to remove bad reviews (owners can respond to them, but not remove them). Pay special attention to mentions of cleanliness. Most people who stay in AirBnBs will write reviews. The owners will also review you when you do and you can’t see each other’s reviews until you both have submitted them. When you go to rent in the future, other owners can look at your reviews and turn you down (maybe you left a place a mess, had a big party, etc.). It’s a good system.
  • If it sleeps a bunch of people, make sure there are enough bathrooms. Some of the older homes have 4 bedrooms and one bath. Yikes. We always look for at least one bath per family. When we did Dublin we had three couples and two of them had a 20 something child with them. So we needed four bedrooms and 3 baths. 
  • Check the number of beds/bedrooms. If you have four couples in our age group, they may not be thrilled with bunk beds.😀
  • Make sure the unit is where you want to be—close to the action. When it comes to location, most will NOT tell you an exact address before you book but they will tell you a general neighborhood and show you a map with a circle that the rental will be in. That can help if you know the neighborhood. We had friends stay here in one who didn’t ask us about the neighborhood and wound up in a part of town I wouldn’t park my car overnight in. You can also look at street views on Google Earth which can give you some idea what you are getting into. If you are coming to Seattle and plan to rent one, just ask us.
  • AirBnBThe nightly rate quoted may not be the entire cost. Keep in mind that you will pay more than the nightly fee which is what they show to start. There is also a separate cleaning fee, service fee (I have no idea what this is for that isn’t cleaning, but they all charge it), Occupancy taxes and fees. Check out this example of the charges on a Seattle AirBnB.
  • The price may be different from one day to the next. One other thing to remember about the price: if you look at rental without putting dates in, you may find that when you do the price changes, sometimes dramatically. For instance, our last stay was in Walla Walla, on our wine tasting tour. We went with our neighbors in August for three days, mid-week and we rented at the last minute. The price for mid-week rentals in the heat of the summer and at the last minute was great! But in the spring or fall (peak months) and on a weekend, the price was literally double. 
  • Set up an account before you look. When you go to the site, click the sign up link and put in your info. This will really help when you want to save particular rentals and come back to them.
  • Refine your search. When you know where you want to go, search for where you want to go,  Then Click Dates, Guests, Type of Place (choose Entire Place) and go. That will show you only what you are looking for. 
  • Save your favorites. Once you have refined your search, look at each one and save it to a favorite list by clicking the heart at the top of the page. When the site asks you which list to save it to, create a new one for the next place you are going. We have lists for all the cities we have stayed in (about 15). 

Out of the 15 or so we have stayed in, we have only had one so-so experience (our first) and no bad ones. Here are photo (from their listings) of the places we have stayed. There are notes in the captions.

 

Two of my favorite things combined: travel and photography—asking for help

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 4.29.53 PMI fully realize that my posts are supposed to be about travel, but this one kind of is. Not my travel but the travels of some good friends of mine, Ellen and John Jarvinen. Their travel plus a HUGE project they are looking for help to make happen for this coming summer.

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Last summer John (who is an accomplished photographer and a retired teacher) and Ellen (who is also a great photographer and one of my favorite yearbook advisers) traveled to the remote Southern Pacific island of Aitutaki. Here’s what Ellen has to say about it on their GoFundMe site:

“During our month on the island, we fell in love with the people and want to do something meaningful for their children. We have the permission of Araura School’s principal to teach a digital photography course July and August 2020 as volunteers, supplying the cameras, computers, software, and peripherals needed to accomplish learning. Now we just need the equipment and to get it and ourselves there!

The photography class will include composition (rule of thirds, angle, line, framing) as well as learning to manipulate the variables (shutter speed, aperture) for effect. Students will also learn professional workflow with Adobe Photoshop to enhance their photos in terms of contrast, color, and sharpness. They will also learn to cut mats for their photos.

We also plan to teach a couple of the teachers at Araura High School so that they can continue to offer the class..”

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After hearing all about this, I really wanted to support Ellen and John in this really great endeavor and I hoped that some of you might as well. If you want to know more about what they are doing and what they want to raise money for and maybe even make a contribution, you can go to their Go Fund Me site by clicking here.

I had promised Ellen I would ask my readers for help and she dropped me a note this week to let me know that they now have 501-3c status which means that donations to their project are now tax deductible. Being a photographer and a traveler, this is my kind of project and I hope some of you will join me in supporting them.

The practice of charity will bind us – will bind all men in one great brotherhood.—Conrad Hilton

My perfect vacation

Sometimes you might wonder where I get my ideas. I am a walker. Each week I try and take at least two walks of more than six miles and while I am walking (takes me about two hours), I am thinking about what I want to write. On my last walk, this came to me. It is dedicated to all my readers who don’t or haven’t taken a cruise and don’t understand why anyone would cruise.

The Perfect Vacation Day

Imagine the following vacation day. It is my idea of a perfect vacation day. It’s not the day we fly in from somewhere, it’s just a typical day in the middle of a vacation. Maybe we are in NYC, Amsterdam or Barcelona.

Somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 I wake up. Kathleen is still sleeping so I dress quietly in the dark and sneak out of our hotel room to go work out at the the fully-equipped gym in the hotel. Lots of bikes, weights, treadmills as well as fitness classes I could take. (I know some of my readers are thinking I am nuts, but I said this was MY perfect vacation day.) After I finish my workout I head back to our hotel room where Kathleen has risen and gotten ready for our day. I quickly do the same and we are off to breakfast.

For breakfast we have a bunch of choices. We can just go and get a latte and a piece of pastry, we can go to the hotel breakfast buffet or we can go to the hotel’s sit down restaurant and be served pretty much whatever we want. They have a fairly extensive menu. The food is good and we probably eat too much.

Then it is off to see the sites. We might walk around the city, we might take a tour—probably a food tour since we love those—or we might decide that we have had enough touring and just go and sit by the hotel pool (OK, not likely for us) or in a nice spot in the lobby area and read or I could write another post or work on processing photos from previous day tours or we could play a game with new friends we made the night before at dinner. Maybe Kathleen would head to the spa for a manicure. You never know.

If we decided to leave the hotel, around lunchtime we might find a quaint little restaurant in the town or city we are in and have lunch. We have done this many times before. We have found an awesome crêpes place in Eze, France, a wonderful Italian trattoria in Sienna, Italy and a brewery with spruce-tip beer and fantastic chili in Skagway, Alaska. But if we decided to stay at the hotel that day, we have the same choices as breakfast—the hotel buffet or a sit down restaurant. Or there is a really great burger place and maybe a few more spots to choose from. All are priced well and we eat for next to nothing.

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After lunch it’s more touring or more relaxing depending on what we decided to do. Around 4:00 pm if we are touring we decide to head back to the hotel and get ready for cocktails and dinner. Since we love to meet people, we change and head out to a hotel bar or maybe one nearby. The hotel has more than 10 different lounges and we are certain we will find something we like in one of them. When we are sipping and nibbling, we meet some folks from another state or another country. We are feeling great because we are all on vacation so we strike up a conversation. We find out about their travels and they find out about ours. We discuss their grandkids and swap photos. We talk about our kids and they tell us about theirs. We never talk politics or religion. Too dangerous.

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An hour or so later we head off to dinner. All those same options are open to us again (hotel buffet, sit down restaurant and lots of other slightly more expensive choices) and we choose the sit down restaurant. Because we have been there the night before (and maybe the night before that) the waiter knows us by name. He knows what we like to drink and it is already at the table.

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The menu is pretty good and we can have a full, three course meal. In fact if we want a four course meal or a five course meal, the waiter says he will be happy to bring us anything else on the menu we like. One night I am decadent and order both the shrimp cocktail and the escargot. We meet other people seated near us and talk and again discuss the same type of topics, sharing our lives. Over the years as we have traveled from hotel to hotel we have met lots of people this way. Many have become life-long friends. When it comes time to order the dessert, I ask the waiter if he can bring us one of every dessert on the menu and let us try everything with our new friends. He says, “Of  course sir,” and is back in a flash with something for everyone to try. He also tells us that if we like one particular dessert, he can bring us an entire one for ourselves.

Then it’s off to a show. We might see a show as good as one we have seen on Broadway, a Cirque de Soleil style performance, a jazz quartet or maybe just a comedian who cracks us up. But no matter what, the hotels lets us see these shows for free.

After the show we wander over to that lounge for a drink and to watch some of our new friends who are ballroom dancing. They finish and join us for a drink and then we all head off to our rooms in the hotel where a full turn-down service has been performed just like in any other five-star hotel. There’s a mint on our pillows and we are beat after our long but rewarding day. We are quickly asleep.

The next morning we wake up and open the drapes out to our hotel balcony and we are shocked (not really) to find that somehow our hotel has magically been transported to another of our favorite cities and we get to do the entire day all over again with new experiences and new places to see. We are a little sad because we had a few more things we wanted to do in the city we were in yesterday so we plan to come back and stay longer.

Here’s my favorite part of all this. If everything is perfect, our total cost for this vacation at this magical hotel is less than $250 day for both of us. Depending on the time of year (if we can travel off-season) it might be less. Remember I said this was my fantasy that I thought of while walking. But see, it really isn’t a fantasy. We have taken this same trip 28 times already and we plan to take it whole bunch more. This is a cruise and our hotel just happens to move most of the nights we are onboard while we are enjoying those shows and then sleeping.

That’s why we cruise. You should try it. If you are reading this, you probably already have but feel free to show this to all your friends who think you are crazy to cruise. Then tell them to join you on your next one.

I learned a long time ago that trying to micromanage the perfect vacation is always a disaster. That leads to terrible times.—Anthony Bourdain

 

Allure of the Seas–my final report

Closing out my Allure of the Seas report here are some overall feelings about the ship and the cruise. Let me say some things to set the stage. First, we are not BIG ship people but we wanted to try an Oasis class ship, the biggest in the world. Our usual ships carry about 3,000 cruisers max while Allure was hosting more than 6400.

Second, we had just sailed on a Quantum-class, almost-as-big ship (Ovation of the Seas) in July and had not had a great experience, so this was a second chance for Royal Caribbean. Lastly, this was (as we mentioned), a FAM cruise. That’s one where we got a great deal from Royal to take the cruise but had classes to take to become FAMiliar with Allure on all the sea days, letting us learn more about RCL and Allure. Let me say that the classes run by our fearless leader Nate were outstanding as you have probably figured out from my previous posts. Second, let’s look at the other two items on my list.

Was Allure too big?

Maybe. But it is easily manageable. I think we only felt crowded once on the entire cruise—lunch and after lunch (until the staterooms were opened) on Embarkation Day. But I will also say that after being on board for a week, I could now tell  friends that wanted to sail on this class of ship where to go to avoid that. For instance, after we had lunch at a fairly crowded Park Cafe (but nowhere near as crowded as the Windjammer Marketplace Buffet) we tried to find a quiet place to sit until the staterooms were ready. We didn’t. We finally squeezed ourselves into a tiny booth way in the back of the Boleros bar on the Royal Promenade. It was slammed. We later found that we could have gone to any of a bunch of other lounges for a quiet place to sit and wait. In fact just steps from the Park Cafe was Dazzles which we never saw anyone in during the day but we always found the doors open.

Comparing this to our Ovation of the Seas cruise, we really feel that Allure has handling the crowds down cold. They know what they are doing. On Ovation, it was like they were trying to figure out how to handle the huge number of people onboard and never quite getting it right. Royal has been using this class of ship much longer and really gets it on this size ship.

Also on Ovation in July, it was sometimes hard to find anything to do with our kids for numerous reasons. I spent a lot of time playing foosball with my grandkids. That would NEVER have been the case on Allure. In fact, maybe there is too much to do. And after their future upgrade (Amplification) there will be even more to do. So many of those venues (pictured below) were not that crowded when we walked by them during the week because the ship is SO big that there are plenty of places to spread out the crowd.

While Ovation had little interesting entertainment (a comic juggler and typical cruise ship shows, etc) Allure had some of the best shows we have ever seen at sea in 28 cruises. Between Mama Mia (of Broadway touring company quality), the aqua show, the comedy club, the jazz club, the disco, the ice show, the very professional main showroom shows, we were VERY well entertained.

I truly wish we had been able to take our grandkids on Allure instead of Ovation. They would have had so much more fun because there were so many fun things to do and they were open and available. Sadly, no Oasis class ships have done Alaska so that would have meant flying them across the country and going to the (for me) dreaded Caribbean.

Which brings me to the one thing we really didn’t like about the trip—that Royal Caribbean can’t do a thing about—the heat and humidity. A lot of the things to do on Allure are outdoors and for us Northwesterners, it was just too hot and too humid. We are not Caribbean people. We don’t like beaches, we don’t like sun (I’ve had one malignant melanoma and that’s enough for this life) and we really are not fans of walking around islands where those are the main attractions. We can only imagine how great it would have been to spend this same week onboard Allure had we been able to do this next summer (after she is Amplified) and while she is sailing in the Mediterranean. WOW! An incredible port every day and Allure to come back to at night. When you finished you would need a vacation to recover from your vacation.

One thing we learned in our week on Allure is that this ship is so big and there is so much to do that it doesn’t matter where you are or what you enjoy, you will find something you like to do. To prove it to you, check out my photos for this windup post which will take you on a virtual tour of the public areas of Allure. As you see all there is to do, keep in mind that once Allure goes through Amplification, there will be even more to do.

Deck 18 & 17—the Suite life

There are 18 decks on Allure (well, really only 17 because like most ships, there is no deck 13). 18 is just staterooms (suites) and 17 has a sundeck for suites as well as more suites and the Coastal Kitchen (a restaurant open to suite guests). We didn’t get to see this because we weren’t staying in a suite.

Deck 16—Windjammer Marketplace, Solarium, Flowrider, Zipline

So if you are hungry or want a thrill, this is the place. As I mentioned above, we did not do a lot on any deck above eight except walk around and have lunch on the day we were in Nassau. Starting from the aft, on this deck you will find twin Flowriders (the surfing simulator our grandson Mason learned to love on Ovation), a short but really high zip line, a few bars and the main attraction, the Windjammer Marketplace which is actually the buffet. Not sure why Royal has named all their buffets a Marketplace because you really can’t buy anything there (that’s me, trying to be funny). Here are some pics that will give you an idea of what to expect. They all have captions so you can get an idea of what you are looking at.

Deck 15—Sun and water

If you are a sun worshipper you won’t be disappointed. This deck has SplashAway Bay for the kids, FOUR full size family pools and some great views down into Central Park and The Boardwalk. On the aft end of this deck you will find Allure Dunes (miniature golf) a sports court, lots of places to drink and get snacks as well as the Living Room, a part of the teen scene. At the front of the ship you will also find the downstairs part of the adults-only Solarium.

Deck 14—Adventure Ocean

Most of deck 14 is all about staterooms but the one main thing you find on this deck is Adventure Ocean, Allure’s club for kids from 3 to 17. I only have two photos for you because Allure does not allow photos when kids are in attendance and I don’t blame them. This deck also has a card room but that’s one of the few places I didn’t get around to seeing. Something tells me it wouldn’t have been really that interesting.

If you are a photographer, the best place to take photos as you come into ports is the Sundeck on the very far forward of deck 14. The glass partition are a little high for me so if you are a diminutive photographer, you may have a hard time shooting over it but most of my forward facing port photos came from being on the Sundeck.

Deck 9-12—Diamonds, Dazzles and staterooms

Remember, no deck 13. So Deck 12 has the upstairs of the Diamond Club, Allure’s private area for their three highest loyalty club members. To get to the Diamond Level in the Crown and Anchor Society you need 175 cruise credits. Since we have 17 now, we are guessing that one credit equals one night on board in a typical stateroom. There’s also some additional credits if you book a suite. We used the Diamond Club on a lot on this cruise. Of course you are wondering with just 17 credits, how were we able to do that??? We are Elite Plus members of Celebrity Cruises’ Captains Club and since both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity (as well as Azamara Cruises) are owned by the same company, we get reciprocal benefits to a point. On Celebrity, there is nothing like the Diamond Club but we wish there were.

They serve a great breakfast there and we ate ours in the Diamond Club every morning. Typical buffet fare but with hardly any crowds. Some mornings we were one of a very few people in the room. In the evening, they serve cocktails and appetizers from 4:30 until 8:00. We went every night and some nights it was rather crowded but we soon learned if we waited to go until after the first dinner seating left for dinner, there were plenty of places to sit. We met a lot of very nice people during these super evening receptions. This room really made our cruise. There are pics below.

Somewhere on one of these decks there is a really tiny internet “room” with about five computers in it that are available for anyone’s use. I discovered it by mistake and it is so small that it doesn’t even show on deck plans so I can’t remember where exactly it is. It’s about the size of two inside staterooms put together and sits in the middle of a bunch of inside staterooms near the front elevators and staircases.

Also on Deck 11, right next to the Diamond Club entrance (the Diamond Club also has an upstairs dining area that is used for Chef’s Table, a kind of a pop-up specialty restaurant) is the ship’s library. It is tiny and windowless and often empty but it is a great place to go and find some peaceful time away from the crowds of Allure.

The rest of decks nine through twelve are staterooms. Lots and lots of staterooms.

Deck 8—Central Park and more

I know I have already posted pictures looking down into Central Park as our verandah looked into this central part of the ship that is open air. Central Park is a drop-dead gorgeously green area on a cruise ship. Incredible plants, a couple of bars, a bunch of specialty restaurants (both complimentary and chargeable) and just a relaxing place to sit if you can handle the heat and humidity. In a cooler climate, I would love this place. Captions on the photos explain what you are looking at. Also on this deck is Dazzles, a nightclub that we walked into but never went at night so we aren’t sure what kind of music they feature. We really liked the way it looked inside. Small and intimate on two levels with a great view of The Boardwalk area.

Deck 7—Not much

I have no pics on Deck seven. It is mostly staterooms and the upstairs of Dazzles. That’s about it. Sorry.

Deck 6—A whole bunch of stuff from front to back

Deck six is PACKED from bow to aft. From the front of the ship where you will find the spa and gym, to midships where you will discover the upper deck/balcony/mezzanine of the Royal Promenade to finally the aft that is The Boardwalk. You could spend an entire day on deck six and have a great time and never need to go anywhere else. It has more attractions and things to do than most entire cruise ships. Check out the photos for all the info. The Boardwalk is especially amazing with restaurants, the aqua show I wrote about last week and a full-size carousel. Amazing.

Deck 5—The Royal Promenade

The heart of the ship, the Royal Promenade, is where things happen. It seems like all the other entertainment venues and places to eat are outliers and the Royal Promenade is the center of everything. Cruise Director Jimmy Rhodes told us on New Year’s Eve, it hosts one of the biggest parties on the seas and we believe it. Check out the pics for more into. Deck 5 also has the upstairs entrances to the theater (forward) and the main dining room (aft). There’s even a real-live Starbucks (that will take your Starbucks card instead of your Seapass card)!

Deck 4—Food and Entertainment

If you can’t tell, my deck descriptions are relying less and less on narrative and more and more on the photo captions. This ship is just too big. Deck four has the main entrances to the theater (forward) and the dining room (aft). It also has the casino (my biggest criticism is the entrance to the casino which is full of cigarette smoke being across from the entrance to the dining room which means I couldn’t avoid it) and the art auction office (biggest rip off on the high seas IMO) . Deck four also has a jazz club (we liked), a comedy club (we never went to), an ice-skating rink (ditto) and another night club we used for a group reception on our first night at sea. It is used for a lot of private receptions and is generally an all-purpose club. There is also a small Japanese Benihana-style restaurant but I can’t remember if it was on deck four or five and it doesn’t show up on the Allure Deck plans. The photo captions have more into.

Deck 3—Conference Center

Deck three has the Conference center (where we did our classes with Nate) and that’s about it. It also has one of the other main dining venues (for MyTime diners) as well as the bottom level of the theater. No pics here that weren’t on the other decks but I did include a few below that don’t have any other specific place to go.

That’s it! One solid week of learning about this ship, having a great time and a great experience even with the heat and humidity. Hope you enjoyed traveling along. And one final note: if you have a family, this class of ships is for you. There is truly something for everyone.

If I had my will I would live in a ship on the sea, and never come nearer to humanity than that!—Eleonora Duse

 

Day 7 on Allure of the Seas—Nassau, in the Bahamas

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Panoramic photo from the back of Allure of the harbor in Nassau. The Disney ship you see on the right and the Royal Caribbean ship beyond her are two of five in port that day.

First, let me apologize for taking so long to get this last day of our Allure trip online. As we did a year ago on our New England trip, we came home sick. It appears we got the flu. Kathleen had been fighting it for a few days but I came down with a full blown case on the last night. Basically coughed the entire night, fever, aches and pains…you know the drill. We were supposed to do a Miami food tour once we got off the ship but we had to bag that and beg our buddy Mike to let us come back to his place and just collapse for the day before we flew home at 6:30 Sunday night. He’s such a great guy—he quickly said, “Come on up!” So we did. Thanks Mike!

At any rate, once we got back to Redmond, I have just been wiped out and not in the mood to put this  post together. But eventually I have to kick myself in the butt and do something, so here goes.

When I last posted, we were in Nassau, Bahamas and had decided to stay on the ship. Why? Because it was 1) hotter than hell, 2) we had been there twice before, 3) since we are not beach/snorkeling/gambling people, there is not much to do and 4) there were five (YES, FIVE) ships in that day for a total of more than 14,000 people who were going to have to get off the ship and go through one little building to get on and off the island. So we stayed onboard and I took the day to take a bunch of photos of the ship with hardly anyone in them (which I will include with my last Allure post in a couple of days) and a few of Nassau from the ship (below).

One more post about this trip and and that will wind it up. In the next couple of days I will sum up the trip, give you some recommendations and tell you our general impressions of Allure of the Seas and show you pics from the rest of the ship. I only showed the inside of staterooms on our first day. These will be the public areas. Watch for it! Now, here are some pics.

Nassau, Bahamas photos (taken from the deck of Allure)

Since the beginning, it was just the same. The only difference, the crowds are bigger now.—Elvis Presley

Day 5 & 6 on Allure of the Seas–San Juan, Puerto Rico

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A panoramic shot of Old Town San Juan from the sundeck on Allure of the Seas

Day 5 found us docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico where the temps were in the low 90s and the humidity near 80% so according to two apps on my phone it “felt like” 110. That’s just too hot. But being the intrepid walker I decided to take a 4 mile walk around old town, and then from one fort to another, duplicating a walk we had taken the first time we were here back in 2005. I just don’t remember it being this hot. I took some pics on my walk (as I usually do) and they are below.

When I got back to our stateroom, Kathleen was shocked at how I looked. I was literally soaking wet with sweat, my face was red and Kathleen said, “Oh my God! I have never seen you that sweaty and your face that red!” She was honestly worried about me—something she does a lot…because she loves me.

After a cold shower and lots of water, a short nap (more about napping later) I was back to normal and we were off to our free specialty restaurant dinner at 150 Central Park. For you Celebrity cruisers out there, it’s a slightly less formal version of Murano. We had a wonderful server, Lina who was totally conversant and we love talking to staff about food. She was so good to us. Kathleen had lamb Wellington and I had venison. To give you an example of how great Lina was, when she came back for the customary check-in of “How do you like your entrées,” we got into a discussion of our favorite foods. I told her I loved octopus. About five minutes later, she walked back up and set a plate of grilled octopus down on the table. I was stunned. It wasn’t on their menu. I asked her how she had done that magic and she said that another specialty restaurant (Giovanni’s, where I had lunch with our group on Tuesday) did serve it and she went and got me some. WOW! That’s service. Way to go above and beyond.

That was about it for Thursday except that we saw an outstanding show in the evening, The Company Men. They are an outstanding singing quartet that does mash-ups. When I first heard that my reaction was “Let’s skip this one.” But our buddy Mike had told us not to miss a show so off we went. I was so sure we wouldn’t like it that I even had us sit way in the back so we could get out quick if it went as bad as I thought it might be.

Boy was I wrong. Sure enough, Allure did not disappoint. Another outstanding show. These guys are amazing vocalists (check their website linked above and listen for a few minutes) and what they do to put two, three and four songs together from different eras is truly amazing. We loved the show The Company Men. They play a lot of cruise ships (their website has their schedules as there are three traveling groups) so if you ever get the chance to see them, don’t miss it.

Friday was another sea day so we had our last class with Nate. He had arranged a tour of the ship’s bridge to start the day so we all met with security and were escorted in. Kathleen and I are kind of jaded when it comes to being on a cruise ship bridge. It’s something we have done at least three times before and to be honest, all cruise ship bridges pretty much look alike. The only difference with Allure’s was the size. On the others we have toured (Celebrity’s Infinity, Century and Azamara’s Quest) you could walk from one side of the bridge to the other in about 20 big steps. On Allure it would have been about 50 big steps, she is that wide. Otherwise, a ship’s bridge is just a bunch of computer monitors and a couple of chairs with joysticks. See the pics (I only took a few because there’s not much to it) and you will understand. The officer giving the tour was a really nice guy so we did have a good time.

After that it was back to class and today was just short, open book (or in our case, open Google) test about all we had learned this week. I am too old to memorize everything when I know right where to find it online. We also did some celebrating as Nate had gotten a cake for all the October birthdays (including Kathleen’s on the 27th). And one of our group (Jenna from our corporate offices) had gotten engaged the day before as well. The group of agents we are traveling and taking classes with are really great folks from all over the US and Canada. Since we have seen them in class, at shows and at dinner we have really gotten to know some of them very well. It’s great to compare how we all do our travel jobs.

After class we used our free specialty restaurant lunch and went to Allure’s Mexican joint, Sabor. It was pretty good Mexican food and the fact that it was free (normal charge $20 per person) made it all the better. We even got our margaritas comped. Didn’t know that until we were done eating. If I had know that, I would have had another. 😀

After lunch I actually went back to our stateroom and took a nap. This is a big deal for me as I hardly ever do this. This week I have found myself really tired late in the morning and through the afternoon. Last night I figured out why, (BTW: As I am writing this it is Saturday, our last full day and we just arrived in Nassau, Bahamas). Last night as I lay in bed my legs starting hurting like they were on fire, followed by my back doing the same thing. I have had this three times before in my life and it is always the same thing—caffeine withdrawal. Now I have been drinking cappuccinos every morning but either they were too much milk or they were using decaf but suffice it to say, I spend a horrid night until 7:00 am when the onboard Starbucks opened (THANK GOD FOR STARBUCKS) where I ordered a cup of black coffee with two shots of espresso. I sat down right there to drink it and within 10 minutes of my first sip, I was feeling better. By the time I finished the grande, no pain whatsoever. I am now flying 😜 but I feel great.

But back to last night. We saw our last production show, Blue Planet. Your typical Cirque de Soleil-type show that cruise ships are really into right now. Music, acrobatics and dancing. We have seen these on Celebrity ships before but because Allure is so BIG and has such a huge theater with a huge stage, they can do much more staging-wise. That made it a really interesting show. If I hadn’t seen it, I would go and I recommend you do if you are onboard.

We were there for the early show at 7:00 and were out by 7:45 and off to dinner with fellow agents and then back to our stateroom for the aforementioned horrible, caffeine-withdrawal night punctuated by a cough that both of us have seemed to pick up. When will be able to travel without getting sick?

But enough about illness, here’s some pics from my walk around San Juan and our last day in class.

San Juan, Puerto Rico photos

Photos from our bridge tour and last day of classes

There’s definitely healing properties to being in proximity to the ocean and that breeze. There’s something about that Caribbean climate and humidity.—Johnny Depp