Cruising the Caribbean aboard the Allure of the Seas
In April this year, John Harrison and his partner Joie embarked on a trip to the USA, created by travel designer, Frazer Best. The three-week trip took them to Florida, where they joined the world’s largest passenger ship, the Allure of the Seas, for a glorious cruise around the Caribbean.
First stop for John and Joie was Key West, an island in the Straits of Florida at the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys on the North American continent. The island is approximately 140 km from Cuba and is about 6.4 km long and 3.2 km wide.
‘I cannot begin to describe what a wonderful and relaxing place Key West is,’ says John. ‘It has such a great history with pirates, the Spanish Armada and finally the Conch Revolution of only 30 years ago. If a hurricane had not sunk the Spanish fleet then, all of America would be speaking Spanish instead of the only 20 percent that do today.’ John also added that the sunken fleet of the only world power of the time has resulted in ongoing treasure hunts, still in operation today.
Duval Street is the ‘main drag’ stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. At the Gulf end is ‘Old Town’, the Westin Pier for cruise liners, the sport fishing piers and all the action. Along Duval and its side streets are more than 350 bars and restaurants of every type and taste, and most of the bars have live music day and night.
‘As most streets are narrow and traffic slow, most people opt to walk, bike or hire golf carts to get around. Never have I experienced a more laid back and fun place! If cows have the right of the road in India, then roosters have the same pride of place in Key West. Originally bought over from Cuba by the refugees, they run wild and are regarded as sacred,’ John told us.
According to John and Joie, a couple of the great sights you’ll find in Key West are writer Ernest Hemingway's home and President Harry S Truman's Southern White House. ‘Both are immaculately maintained and stunning, as are most of the homes here with huge wrap-around balconies and two to three storeys high. Not only is there plenty to do and see in Key West, the climate is also fabulous with a gentle trade breeze coming off the Atlantic. It’s perfect!’
From Key West, the couple took a short flight to Fort Lauderdale to join Allure of the Seas for their seven-day cruise. It’s Royal Caribbean's newest addition and weighs 225,000 tons, carries 8,800 passengers and crew, and has 26 restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
‘When we came to make the cruise booking, it was pretty much sold out,’ says John. ‘We either had a very small cabin available, or a suite on the top deck… so we chose the suite! Spread across two levels with two full bathrooms and a huge 100 sq ft balcony, it was wonderful. Having a suite gives you all the privileges that are similar to having Koru membership – there was a lounge for gold cardholders (those in suites or frequent travellers) that had unlimited beverage and food available 24/7 and access to exclusive desk space. It was certainly a change from my first and only other cruise on the Southern Cross to the UK in 1989. That was six to a cabin!’
With capacity for 6,400 passengers, many might shudder at the thought of so many but John and Joie never felt crowded. ‘There was so much space and everything went like clockwork, even at the nightly buffet. There are dozens of eating places; whether you felt like a hot dog or five-star French cuisines, there was something for everyone’.
One thing that perplexed them in a positive way was the wine costs in the ship’s top restaurants. ‘As one would expect, there were very expensive Italian, Chilean and Californian wines costing anything from $100-$900 a bottle. But we also found bottles of 2009 Craggy Range, Gimblett Gravels Te Kahu at $49! You cannot even get it at that price at the winery and here we are at the end of the planet, drinking it at prices we can only dream about!’ he laughed.
After spending days of luxury at sea, John and Joie disembarked to visit the Bahamas, with Nassau leaving them less than impressed. ‘Nassau was a great disappointment with rusty barbed wire and iron bars protecting most buildings and businesses. We did take a horse and buggy ride through the town, which was well worth the cost and time. Our buggy driver told us that with 400 banks in Nassau and endemic corruption, there’s not much of a future for the ordinary citizen. No doubt the off shore islands are stunning but that cannot be said for the capital, which is all we had time to see.’
Over the next few days, the couple visited St Thomas in the U.S Virgin Islands and Philipsburg, the capital of Dutch St Maarten. ‘Philipsburg was the most beautiful city we had visited, with a golden sand beach in the middle of town and wonderful shopping. It was the best stop we made by far,’ said John.
The cruise back to Fort Lauderdale took two days and nights, just the perfect amount of time to spend in the various bars and restaurants downing innumerable Mojitos and Margaritas.
The Allure of the Seas has left a lasting impression on them both. ‘Words cannot adequately describe the ship,’ says John. ‘For instance, there is an open deck in the middle of the ship called ‘Central Park’. It has over 12,000 trees, shrubs and fountains, plus restaurants copied from the best available in New York City. Below this is the ‘Royal Promenade’ with three levels of shopping, a theatre, spas, pools and so much more. Behind that is the ‘Boardwalk’, a copy of Coney Island, with hot dog stands, and pizza and fish and chip outlets. In other words, something for everyone!’
If you want to experience a taste of the Florida Keys and relax aboard a luxurious cruise around the Caribbean, then give us a call; we’ll have you there in no time.