MONDAY: We are at sea for the first full day of this cruise, which will take us from Fort Lauderdale to Royal Caribbean’s private resort of Labadee on the north coast of Haiti; on to the newly-developed port of Falmouth, in Jamaica, and then to Cozumerl, off the coast of Mexico.
No need to rush then, and I took the chance of a lie-in to catch up on sleep lost during the previous couple of days – I had been awake all night before flying to Miami, spent the latter part of Sunday being interviewed by radio stations in London and Australia, and put in an appearance on ITV’s Daybreak breakfast show before going to bed.
Our Deck 8 cabin is a few steps away from the forward stairwell, although as we have decided to take breakfast in the Solarium Bistro, we take the lifts, thank you. Nearly 10.00 am but it’s still packed, and although the two of us manage to grab a table, there are plenty of others wandering around forlornly with their bowls of muesli and plates of fresh fruit. I’m not exactly starving – the slice of rare rib of beef I had for dinner last night would have been big enough for a family’s Sunday roast when I was a kid in the final days of rationing – so some scrambled egg on toasted (English) muffin and a couple of blueberry pancakes will do for now.
The two of us, by the way, are me and Captain Blackbeard – son Russell, in his late 20s. Although I was on board both Allure and sister ship Oasis of the Seas during their inaugural cruises, this is his first time on anything nearly this size. And it’s my first time on a cruise with almost 6,000 other paying passengers.
I’m interested to get his first impressions, and when I hear them, it seems like I may have been guilty of over-enthusiasm and hype when I was persuading him to join me. I had expected some serious “Wow” moments when first saw the ship at the quayside, or when he stepped into the Royal Promenade.
Fact is, that it’s difficult to gauge just how vast the ship is from the dock, and apparently when Russell arrived on board he was “underwhelmed, in the same way that I might be disappointed by a film that has had rave reviews. My expectations had been raised and I was expecting all sorts of crazy things.
“That said, the Promenade is vast and full of shops and bars and restaurants. Above it, the open-air Central Park is not only filled with real green plants but also comes complete with authentic birdsong.”
We will return to Russell’s thoughts about the ship later in the week. Meanwhile, with the weather disappointingly cool and windy – and the 225,000-ton ship moving ever so slightly in the four-metre Atlantic swell this is no time for sunbathing. In any case, there’s the Move It! Move It! Parade starting any moment, and filling the Promenade with a dazzling collection of DreamWorks characters (above), from Shrek to Kung Fu Panda, and the penguins of Madagascar to a collection of well-trained dragons.
The kids – and some of the over-enthusiastic parents – love every minute, and can hardly stop themselves encroaching on the space left for the dozens of performers, but it’s over all too soon. The “shopping talk” about to take place in the Amber Theatre is not exactly my cup of tea; I’m not looking to start a charm bracelet collection and if I really wanted to find a branch of Diamonds International when we get to Falmouth or Cozumel, I’d probably manage on my own.
Instead, we check out the interactive features on the in-cabin TV, and discover we can book excursions for later in the week, and reserve seats for shows in Allure’s theatre, comedy lounge, ice rink and Aqua Theatre without having to queue.
The main production shows are the Chicago in the early part of the week and The Blue Planet towards the end. The acts in the Comedy Club are already sold out, but we must see the thrilling Aqua Show, Tick, tick, tick: seats all saved (at no extra expense) and when we arrive at the shows our cruise card barcodes will be scanned to verify we have booked.
The selection of excursions is bewildering though. Time to consult the printed list that was waiting in the cabin rather than attempt to scroll through screen after screen with a remote control that is already showing signs of battery fatigue.
The other neat application on the TV is a display which shows how busy the various restaurants are around the ship. The Windjammer buffet is fill, and showing five red bars; there’s room in the Solarium, but we were there just a few hours ago. Don’t feel like waiter service in the main dining room. Am I being unadventurous returning to the Park Cafe for lunch? Not really, it’s one of my favourite venues on the ship, and if I don’t want another roast beef sandwich there are plenty of paninis, wraps and salads to choose from. And all the potato crisps you can eat. (Sorry, Americans but I don’t care what it says on the packet, they are not chips)
More exploring in the afternoon – who needs a gym when you can walk miles checking out the Boardwalk and the sports courts at the stern, and the casino down on Deck 4?
All too soon it’s time to dress for dinner. Tonight is formal night and Captain Hernan Zini will be stepping out onto the cantilever stage above the Bow and Stern Pub to introduce his senior officers.
I grab a free glass of Champagne and watch as a couple of dozen young girls in their best party frocks block a sweeping glass staircase for a good 10 minutes as they pose for pictures; the Rising Tide Bar is doing what it does best – going up and down between Central Park and the Promenade – and there are more men in tuxes than I expected, although open-neck shirts and double Windsors still outnumber bow ties.
There’s escargots bourguignonne, lobster bisque and filet of beef on the menu in the main restaurant, and we sit at a large table with a Wall Street stock analyst and her family; a Welsh couple who have lived in California for 30 years, and delightful Swedish lady who happens to be second officer on another Royal Caribbean ship. Oh, and Captain Zini – almost forgot to mention that.
After dinner we head for the Schooner Bar; I’m curious to see what Russell makes of the camp-as-Christmas Matt Yee, who holds court at the piano each evening. His reaction is the same as mine when I first saw the performance – so hilarious, so outrageous, you have to wonder how he gets away with it. But hugely entertaining.
A couple of Jack Daniel’s later it’s time to head for bed. There’s a busy day at the beach coming up.