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About WinksCruises

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    New York State, USA
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    Princess, Celebrity, Royal... but not so much RCI lately.
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  1. Well, with that big a gang, you'll do fine... 🤼‍♀️ Again, for everyone still reading, our cruise on Allure was great. It's a worst day on a cruise is better than any day at work kinda thing. That said, as ScottyGirl points out, gangs rule. And Mrs. Winks is all the gang I got! (And even that's tenuous!) We're too small to compete on the stages of West Side Story of the Seas. So small ships are better for us. #WhenYoureAJet #StickToYourOwnKind #TonightTonight 🤠
  2. B2B? Yikes! Nothing like diving right into the deep end! 😄🏊‍♀️ We think everyone should book a big ship at least once. You gotta see if it's a right fit for you. For us, it was just too overcrowded and mall-like and lacked a lot of the special, intimate moments that attracted us to cruising in the first place (beginning with Empress, btw. Check out our trip report from when we recently sailed her again). Good luck! Just be open to it being a different (but by no means horrendous) cruise experience.
  3. Yes, it is early! But we had time for a quick breakfast in the Windjammer, which opens earlier than usual on disembarkation day (6 am maybe). Even that early, it was still a zoo! And as I mention in the report, and our concierge advised us, while the group meeting time is 7 am, they generally don't clear the excursion to disembark until 7:15 or 7:30. I think we ended up getting released even later than that. The biggest challenge is finding your motorcoach in the chaos outside the cruise terminal. Once you succeed in doing that, it seemed pretty well organized. We both thought it was a worthwhile excursion... as long as the weather is decent.
  4. 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! Bon Voyage!!!
  5. Good question! Yes, it was very convenient having the Suite Lounge and Coastal Kitchen located on the same level as our stateroom. And the Crown Loft Suite is a unique experience - so I would recommend staying in it - at least once if you can. That said, the CLS balcony is pretty standard issue and probably the room's weakest element. (Although Mrs. Winks is a balcony aficionado, she still felt the split-level suite was worth it in spite the average balcony size). (Also, be wary of where your suite is located. Some are directly overlooking the pool and other activity spaces. We selected ours specifically for the ocean view, so take that into account). The real drawback to being on deck 17, which we pointed out in the review, is an elevator issue. The deck is located right above the Windjammer, so those elevators see A LOT of traffic. If you plan to take a lot of meals at the Coastal Kitchen, you might find having to "lift" there every time becomes a drag. And with the Suite Lounge being open a good portion of the day, it's awfully convenient to stop in there for bottled water, a nightcap, a nibble or just the peace & quiet. We probably wouldn't have taken advantage of this as often if it meant coming up from another floor. Hope that's helpful food for thought. Good luck!
  6. You make an excellent point. Even with the open-air theater in the back, we definitely felt that same disconnect. What you say is true. There're all those access points to the sea plus the aft theater and open-air Central Park. But we still felt that separation only really (consciously) acknowledging it after reading Dan's comment. Wonder why we and others feel that way, when it's patently not the case...
  7. Hoe Noes! CC forum users have broken teh internets!! 🖥️ 📵 🤯
  8. We are not millennials. We will never be able to affect change here. It's time for a competitive travel web site to step in and deliver a competent user experience. This is sad...
  9. Believe it or not, most of the photos you see in this review were taken on our cell phones - the Pixel 2XL. Of course, a lot of the real magic happens in Photoshop, where you can crop, brighten, sharpen, combine and add snarky text. But we also continue to bring along our old "real" cameras. I use a Nikon D-90 with a wide angle lens and Mrs. Winks has a Nikon Coolpix, not sure which model, but it has incredible telephoto abilities. Still, increasingly, we are depending on our phones, since we always have them with us and they aren't a pain to lug around. Thanks!
  10. Here are a couple of random shots and the Cruise Compass from Day 7 - At Sea Here's the time-piece I got at the watch sale. Again, do your research before buying one of these sale items willy-nilly. As good a deal as it appears, you're probably getting ripped-off. A surprise menu selection in the Main Dining Room for lunch - Chicken N Waffles! The Guest Services desk, decked out for the holidays and uncharacteristically un-busy. Must have taken this shot at 5 am! NEXT up: Disembarking and shore excursion in Miami Thanks for your readership, if you have any questions, now's the time to post 'em! The unusually spacious hallway on Deck 17. The suite perk no one ever mentions!
  11. There have been several threads on Cruise Critic, originally popping-up in the Carnival Cruise Line discussion boards, and more recently, here in the Royal Caribbean forums, that suggest, in an attempt to appeal to society’s lowest common denominator, the commercial carriers have essentially transmogrified their once stately, floating pleasure-domes into a fleet of ugly, sailing, big-box Wal-Marts. I remember when a similar effort was made in Las Vegas, of all places, where, during the 90s, developers attempted to re-invent our iconic Sin City into America’s next family-friendly resort destination. What a disaster that was! Seeing young children, loitering, usually sleeping, on the carpets right outside the casino floor entrances, waiting for their drunken parents to finish squandering funds originally slated for their college tuitions, hoping that sometime, before dawn, the family could call it a night and get back to the room. It didn’t end up working out too well in Vegas. But, sadly, at sea, the concept appears to be taking off. What’s more concerning, for us small ship fans, is that our beloved vessels are emerging from dry dock, now retrofitted with all the shiny-object attractions that make big-ship sailing so intolerable. They’re updated with unnatural add-ons like splash-parks, enclosed water-tubes, FlowRiders, rock-climbing walls, Dreamwork/Pixar character breakfasts, and more recently, simple-solution Escape Rooms… gaudy body augmentations their small-ship bones were never meant to carry. Ultimately, when boredom fails to be an option, when having nothing to do is not a reality, sea cruising stops being the one-of-a-kind recreation it once was. It becomes merely an extension of our on-land lives. A gentrified 24-Hour theme-park, that floats. And it’s not just the dumbing-down of the at-sea experience. It’s the crowds comprised of large families and other gangs, the sheer volume of cruisers on the big ships, that has made the simple act of popping into the Windjammer for a cup of tea a hemic feat worthy of the Titan Games. For us, that time-tattered “It’s a gigantic ship, but we never felt crowded” Cruise Critic cliché, just didn’t apply when it came to this voyage on the Allure. Everything was insanely crowded, even at the most peculiar, off-peak, times. And, of course, we never felt that crowd-crushing claustrophobia more intensely than on that last day at sea. Our sea day back to Miami started typically enough. From the moment we stepped out of our cabin, we were hit with a frigid blast emanating from the cold shoulder we got from every crew member we encountered. We got it from our usually-cheery breakfast server in the Coastal Kitchen and our normally vivacious cabin steward, Henry. Even Nancy and Junior in the Suite Lounge barely looked up from their computer screens when we asked them about special suite guest disembarkation procedures. For the first time all week, the towel guys ran my Sea Pass card, reminding me that the terrycloth articles were Royal Caribbean property and not an opportunity to refresh our linen closets at home. There was no denying it. The last-day “Get off our Ship” vibe was in full effect. It’s funny. No matter how hard you try to make the most of that final day, there’s no way to circumvent the continuous string of reminders that you need to be focusing on getting off the ship. The captain reminds you in his daily report. The Morning Show guys remind you, in fact, it’s all they talk about. The Cruise Compass reminds you. The luggage tags your room attendant lays out on your bed, next to the ceiling-high stack of tip envelopes, remind you. And then the dining room servers remind you (well, they mostly school you on how to fill out the cruise survey you’ll get once you leave, and how uncannily important the number 10 is in the world of maritime math). Duly noting we no longer belonged on the ship, we nonetheless had to tackle the several items populating our day-at-sea to-do list. I had over a hundred Royal shop-bucks to spend onboard or it’d be forfeited. We needed to collect our pictures from the photo gallery. We still had to reserve our last specialty-dining package venue and since Miami doesn’t offer luggage-valet, we had to come up with a plan to store our luggage since we had a late afternoon flight out of Fort Lauderdale. (Spoiler alert: we ended up taking a shore excursion in Miami, simply so we could get our bags to FLL – because, after the horror show getting to the pier, Mrs. Wink’s sister made it clear she wasn’t coming to pick us up, no matter how much alcohol we offered). So, intent on getting our final day started, we ventured-out, beyond the sanctity of our gated suite-guest-only floor, and immediately had to face biggest nemesis on the ship: the elevator bank. The elevators on Allure were always a crowded mess, but on a sea day, you could literally wait 10 minutes to get one you could squeeze onto. On a 17-deck ship, every elevator is a local-stops only elevator! The crowd that morning in the Royal Promenade, in anticipation of several activities, including a watch sale, an appearance by Fiona Shrek Dreamworks, a sundry-store clearance sale (up to 80% off!) and a flash mob dance rehearsal, was more densely packed than the elevator we took to get there! Moshing our way through the assemblage, we got to the table of watches, just as armed security-guards were taking down the barbed-wire rope and stanchions. It was like a department store scene from Black Friday as the wall of bargain-seeking flesh moved in for the kill! After officiating a couple of minor fist-fights (and causing several others), I finally wedged in up against the merchandise tables, while waves of seething throngs pushed and shoved behind me. I eventually picked out a watch that I think found attractive - probably because, in convincing myself it was so, I was closer to completing the sale and extracting myself from the human carnage. The wristwatch, tagged at $600 dollars, inexplicably became a $140 dollar watch after the sales clerk did some magic calculations on his iPad. Applying the Royal Shop cash certificates I received from the Mrs. Winks jewelry acquisition, I ended up only being out $25 bucks for the Invicta watch. What a score, I thought! Not! When I got home, I did some research on Invicta and learned, despite all their showiness and elaborate plastic-crate cases, are actually an off-brand discounter. Worse, upon checking prices, I discovered the same watch could be had for about $90 US from several reputable online vendors (okay, + tax and shipping). But the onboard wristwatch sale, which appeared to be such a bargain, was, in reality, a bit of a rip-off. And I nearly lost said wrist during the process! Lines everywhere, especially in the cramped sundry shop... The Windjammer was another spot that hosted an unending Battle Royale. We’ve all experienced it on embarkation day, when the lines are long and seating a challenge. But on the Allure, with the exception of the first few minutes after opening on a sea day, it was always packed, with people aimlessly walking with plates stacked with food, grabbing, poking and head-butting, when necessary - which was usually always - for additional lackluster selections. Finding a free table was always problematic. Finding Mrs. Winks after I’d found a free table was even more so. On several occasions, we simply settled for single seating at a high-top bar that faced out the window. Since most parties on the Allure are gangs of four or more, these single seats were generally available to interlopers like us. On both sea days, we opted for the Main Dining Room at lunchtime, which was busy, but at least civil, and our Sea Pass cards afforded us a table for two to ourselves. Other times, after foolishly giving the Windjammer another chance, we’d often ended up resorting to a slice of pizza at Sorrento’s, which never TOO insane packed. Windjammer, taken on just minutes after opening for lunch, so a slow moment. Many times it was "Sorrento's pizza again?" Day or night, our only sanctuary from the ship’s overcrowding was the blessed Suite Lounge up on seventeen. Looking back at it now, I realize the suite deck was meant to be its own “neighborhood”, our neighborhood, and, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we really had no business ever leaving it. We didn’t belong or fit-in anywhere else onboard. It’s funny, I’ve always thought the challenge is to take a cruise and not get off the ship. Now I realize, should I ever cruise a big-ship again, the real challenge is to take the cruise and never leave the Suite Deck. How could I have been so blind? And why hadn’t our concierges explained this to us? That said, our little safe-harbor wasn’t totally devoid to the harsh realities of Walmart-style cruising. On several occasions, we were exposed to it, when gangs of multiply-allied families would show up in the lounge, with young children, who loved sampling, with their moist fingers, every odd looking appetizer lined-up on the hors d'oeuvre trays. These groups would take over the lounge, loudly demanding attention of the staff and amenities, constantly shouting back-and-forth between members as they group-thinked the evening’s plans. Fortunately, eventually sensing the stares from other guests, they would eventually understand that they were probably out of place here, and they’d wrap-up their business with the concierges and move on. The Suite Lounge’s location, overlooking a splash-park, hot-tubs and swimming pools, was also a true design flaw. That final evening, enjoying a glass of cabernet before our final dinner, I watched as a gang of children descended upon a hot tub, scaring off the couple who were enjoying it, and made it their own little soup kettle. They entered the water, wearing clothes (not bathing suits) that they’d been wearing all day, and began frolicking and roughhousing, sharing their scabs, scrapes and bodily secretions, in comfort of the warming waters. I was horrified. “Never again, Mrs. Winks,” I uttered in disbelief at what I was seeing. “Never again” snapping a picture to share with all of you. Kid Soup Okay, okay. We can throw the big ships one bone here, though it’s probably more a photo-gallery innovation rather than a vessel-size thing per se, but they’ve finally implemented an improved method for finding the professionally shot photos. Thanks to both facial recognition technology and having you give the ship photographers your Sea Pass card, they can gather all the photos they print and house them conveniently in one storage album. This obviates having to go blind, or nauseous, trying to locate your grimacing mugs amidst walls of 8x10 competing smiles. On Allure, each of our ship photos was stashed in a convenient folder that we could identify using a special file number they print on your Sea Pass card. Easy-peasy. Of course, sadly, none of this new tech has brought down the price of the photos themselves, or all the ink and photo-paper they waste printing unwanted pics. But at least finding your shots has gotten exponentially easier. Mrs. Winks checking photos on the kiosk, and the photo storage albums In the future, Mrs. Winks and I will probably forsake the mega-ship experience, seeking shelter not in luxury cruise lines, as many have, (we’re just too cheap for that), but in the lounges and staterooms of the smaller fleet-members, where we can better enjoy being big-fish in a small-sea, once again. That’s the plan anyway. But you all know Mrs. Winks by now. If she spots a big-ship offer she simply can’t refuse, I’m going to be in for it… again. NEXT UP: Disembark and Our Miami Shore Excursion
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