SUNDAY: Throwing open the curtains in my bedroom at the Sheraton Beach Hotel, Fort Lauderdale (above) I can see palm trees bending in the breeze and a collection of kite-surfers riding the waves. A windy morning then, but considerably warmer than the Britain I left behind a few hours earlier.
A comfortable flight courtesy of Virgin Atlantic, a half-hour hiatus in the queue for Homeland Security at Miami Airport, and a $110 taxi ride along the I-95 brought us here the previous evening. Before retiring for the night there was time for me and my apprentice, Captain Blackbeard, to grab a beer, a burger and some chicken wings in the hotel’s Wreck Bar.
The bar is below swimming pool level and is famous for the Mermaid Show performed here since the 1950s – and which featured in a scene from the 1999 film Analyze This, starring Robert de Niro and Billy Crystal. Not for us, unfortunately; we had to make do with the NFL play-offs on the bar’s big-screen TVs.
Our allocated check-in time for Allure of the Seas is at 2.00 pm so there’s time for a leisurely breakfast and a stroll along the beach, past the International Swimming Hall of Fame and back to the hotel, rising above Seabreeze Boulevard like an ocean liner itself.
There are six cruise ships berthed at Port Everglades, as the harbour at Fort Lauderdale has come to be known. About 20,000 passengers have left earlier in the morning, and another 20,000 are arriving over the space of a few hours ready to start their holidays. There’s a 10-minute delay at the entry gate as security staff check IDs and luggage, but then we’re off to Terminal 18 without further delay.
Here, at the facilities specially built to cater for Oasis of the Seas and Allure, the procedure could hardly be more efficient. A porter takes our bags and we head for the main building. Through security screening in a matter of seconds, we find the section of check-in desks dedicated to Deck 8, check our documents – already completed online before leaving the UK – and receive our cruise cards.
I’m not usually fussed about having an embarkation picture taken by the ship’s photographers, but I know that Royal Caribbean use face recognition software and that once my first portrait has been linked to the cruise card, subsequent pictures should also find their way to the right folder in the image gallery on board. So we pose politely.
Then it’s up the escalator to the gangway and almost before we know it we are on board, stepping straight into the ship’s Royal Promenade. No time to pause for a pizza or a cupcake, we have to find our accommodation – which is easy, using the touch-screens in the lift lobbies. All in all, it can’t have taken more than 15 minutes to get from kerbside to cabin.
Leaving hand luggage behind, it’s then a short walk and down one deck to the leafy serenity of the ship’s Central Park (above) to grab a salad and a roast beef sandwich. The ship might be filling up with nearly 6,000 passengers, but there are plenty of tables and easy chairs here to relax in the sun – even though it feels more like being in a city square than on a ship.
When we return to the cabin our suitcases have been delivered and we can unpack. It’s a tight squeeze to get to the wardrobe, and there’s a limited amount of drawer space, but plenty of room – and hangers – to stow a week’s worth of clothes.
Then before Allure leaves the quayside it’s time for emergency drill. I was interested to see if the Costa Concordia tragedy would have any effect on the procedure or the mood of the guests but it was as if events off the coast of Italy just hadn’t happened. No change to the safety briefing script, and passengers paying little attention as they stood and talked among themselves. Not even a demonstration of how to put on a lifejacket.
Soon we were setting off, buzzed by a coastguard boat (above) and waved at by enthusiastic cruise ship fans on the balconies of the apartment blocks at the side of the channel leading to the open sea. A beer from the Mast Bar was enough for our own sailaway party but the evening was growing chilly, so it was time for dinner.
But that’s enough for today; more about dining on board Allure of the Seas as the week progresses.
TOMORROW: A day at sea