The Allure arrives at the Port of Miami
I should mention that our return voyage back to Miami was plagued by cloudy weather and occasional rain showers. That always makes the final sea day worse, because pretty much every passenger is stuck within the confines of the ship, taxing the already strained resources. As a result, there were long lines for meals, shop purchases, photos and especially the Guest Services desk.
We have a theory that, on the dash back to Florida, a nefarious policy has come down from the home office for the Captain to choose the most inclement course he can. It’s probably based on some AI algorithm that indicates the ship will make more last-ditch sales, and reach profitability, if all the animals are kept cooped up inside and not allowed to lounge the day away, not spending, out on the pool deck. Has anyone else noticed this trend? Of cloudy day homeport returns?
Also, on the final night, we were supposed to partake in the last dinner of our specialty dining restaurant package. So far, we’d been to Chops and Izumi, both good. We’d also been to Johnny Rockets and Sabor’s, but had not counted those cheaper options against the package.
But on that last night, Mrs. Winks was already feeling the first effects of the respiratory virus she’d contracted sometime during the voyage – an early Christmas present she would graciously gift me during our flight home. So she didn’t feel like sitting through a 2-hour meal at Giovanni’s Table. So we decided to “eat the loss” on the package and just settle for something quick (and more decadent) in the Windjammer.
But it was over, Johnny. There was no sense pretending the party could rage on. We put our bags out and called it quits relatively early.
The next morning, we had to rise super-early. Last minute, we asked Junior, the concierge, to book us the Airboat shore excursion for Miami. The main reason being, it would kill time for us – our flight back to New York wasn’t until 4 pm – and it would drop us off at Fort Lauderdale airport.
I verified with Mrs. Winks that she would be up for the excursion and she said she’d feel better being outside (where she could cough more freely) than cooped-up in an airport for 8-hours.
We emerged from our suite, bid it a fond farewell to it and our steward, circumvented the workers donned in hazmat suits who were invading the hallway, and headed down to the Royal Promenade deck where we needed to meet for our excursion in the Comedy Club at 7 am.
We sat in the club for a good half-hour before they finally announced we needed to go up one level, lugging our carry-ons, where we would be the first group to leave the ship.
And it was mass chaos.
The line of self-assist passengers ran down one side of the Promenade vestibule and wrapped half-way back up the other. Gangs were wondering around aimlessly, looking for caffeine fixes or a pick-up fight. And when they saw attendants were opening a gangway to let us shore excursion riff-raff off, full anarchy ensued. Like Wal*Mart on Good Friday - during The Purge.
Because we were among the first off the ship, things rolled pretty smoothly in the terminal. Until we went to retrieve our luggage in the #1 baggage-tag area. We searched them all, but couldn’t find them. Fortunately, I looked up and saw, across the massive space, a red-sign hanging above a group of other bags that read Suite Guests. So, despite our concierge Junior insisting we use #1 bag-tags, because we were taking a shore excursion, our bags actually ended up being delivered to the Suite Guests baggage area (with the #1 tags having been ripped off.) Thanks!
Anyway, we breezed through customs and immigration and headed out to the street where there was more anarchy. A tour guide tapped us on our shoulders, having spotted the stupid colored sticker they had distributed to all of us in the excursion lounge, and guided us to a waiting motor coach.
They confirmed that we were ultimately being dropped off at Fort Lauderdale Airport, noted our airline which dictated which section of the bus’s underbelly they’d store our bags in. Then we then boarded the bus and preceded to wait, almost an hour, as other guests, wandering lost throughout the massive bus-lane aisle, finally located the correct bus for our excursion.
We got a ticket to ride...
Once everyone was accounted for, including the one guy on the Miami Airport bus who insisted his flight on Southwest, left from that airport (it doesn’t – Southwest doesn’t service Miami Airport) and refused to leave that bus despite all the warning, we got headed to the Sawgrass Recreation Park for our Everglades Airboat Excursion and Eco-Tour.
The uneventful bus ride took almost an hour. Once there, it was reasonably well organized and the tour group’s communications were excellent. They dropped us off at Gator Emporium gift shop, showed us where the restrooms were, and explained we needed to re-muster when the PA system called for the orange sticker tour group to assemble. I spent a short period milling about the facility while Mrs. Winks took it easy on one of many benches lining the dock area. Within half-an-hour, they called for the orange stickers and we were split into smaller groups to board the airboats.
Our airboat captain, and docent, Mike, was an informed naturalist who gave us the skinny on the Everglades eco-system and the evils of land development in Florida. While you wear earplugs during the actual travel periods, while stopped, he’s able to rant and rave about what you’re seeing.
He cautiously prefaced his patter that he couldn’t promise we would see any wildlife on our half-hour “cruise” but, thanks to recon he got from returning vessels, he had us floating right up against several gators within 10-minutes.
Let me tell you, it’s pretty intimidating to be in an open-air craft, inches above the water, when one of these massive creatures swims up to check you out. Captain Mike didn’t need to remind us twice to keep all appendages inside the boat, while at the same time assuring us that the alligators really had no interest in us, unless we had plans on building a housing development. “They can sniff out real estate developers like you sniff out popping microwave popcorn”
The tour company insists they don’t lure the gators in with food. And I didn’t see our captain offer any to them, but we did find it mighty strange that the alligators would feign any interest in our boat, one of 50 or more they see every day, if there wasn’t something in it for them. I had visions of Mike chucking some chum over his shoulder into the water as he kicked the boat into high-gear for the next stop, but had no evidence of this.
All in all, it was a fun little adventure, augmented by the sunny weather and the good fortune of seeing a couple of gators and turtles. At half-an-hour, it was just long enough, because basically, once you’ve seen a couple of these wondrous creatures, there’s not much else to it.
Whipping at high speed, through the grass and over the water is pretty awesome, but I wondered how the boats avoided hitting one of these meandering animals, and also a collision would flip the boat if it did happen. Should have asked him about that during Q & A.
Here’s a little video montage of the excursion:
After we returned to the airboat center and moored, and one of the little kids on the trip blew chunks on the dock (motion sickness? Or more likely stress), we headed off to the second half of the attraction: a wildlife zoo consisting of rescue animals, allegedly.
The zoo consisted of a quarter mile trail, lined with a menagerie of caged turtles, alligators, peacocks, various Everglades vermin and a genuine (highly endangered) Florida Panther suffering from a leg injury.
As you enter the zoo area, you pass by a cigar-store Indian, a questionable homage to the Seminole Tribe that used to inhabit the region. (In fact, tribe members used to seek refuge in the Everglades, trying to evade government officials who wanted to ship them off to a reservation in Oklahoma). It’s pretty offensive to us politically correct folks – so of course we had to take a snapshot for Instagram!
After touring the zoo, we still had a little time to kill before re-boarding the motor coach. Unfortunately, we had no luck scoring an alligator treat from the food truck that was set up in a small picnic area behind the Gift Emporium. All food there, the signed proclaimed in big letters, was “cooked to order” and would take up to 20-minutes to prepare. Not a good thing to read when the line is already 25-people deep and you have a bus to catch.
Instead, we grabbed some chips and soda from the gift shop and camped on one of the benches, figuring we would have time for lunch before our flight at the airport. The tour company was true to their promise, we re-boarded the bus and were dropped off at the Fort Lauderdale airport by 2 pm.
Of course, once we got to the airline check-in counter, it was a mad scramble to do some weight re-distribution with the luggage. I swear it was that darn Allure of the Seas crystal block that pushed us over the weight limit! As it was, the kind counter attendant let us scoot by with one bag clearly still a couple pounds over the limit – but who wouldn’t, once Mrs. Winks started having a coughing fit!
Air travel is so much fun!
We did end up having time for a quick lunch at the airport, and our flight back to New York was on-time and uneventful. We landed to a chilly, near freezing rain storm which finally pushed both Mrs. Winks and I over the brink, as we quickly succumbed to whatever contagion she had contracted on board.
In the end, it was a perfectly fine cruise. We enjoyed the cabin and lounge and Coastal Kitchen very much. We had fun on our excursions and overall, it was a nice pre-holiday break. That said, we truly will assess re-booking a big ship in the future. The crowds were just too large and the service levels, while adequate for the most part, still suffered. Everything felt rushed and incomplete, with a lot of cruising’s charm lost to the mass commodification.
Our next trip is in October, on a Royal Caribbean Freedom Class ship no less. Not one of my favorite classes, of course, but what can you do? Mrs. Winks found another great deal!