Joao Mendonca was the original Food and Beverage Manager on both Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas and thus played a key role in bringing both ships into service (see interview). He was subsequently promoted and was hotel director on other Royal Caribbean ships including Vision of the Seas (see interview). Now, he splits his time between being Hotel Director on Oasis and on Allure.
“When I came back to the Allure in June  after being promoted, what I found was the ship was amazing. The team has elevated the 'wow' in the sense that they have really fine-tuned all the concepts. They really took it to the next level.”
Mr. Mendonca attributes this in large part to the fact that many of the people that brought Allure into service are still with the ship. “We have been fortunate to have kept a lot of the senior management that were here from the start up. A lot of the crew are still here - - about 65 per cent of the original crew. That means they are happy, they like the ship.”
“There is always a bit of a tendency when people come from other ships to say 'on the Voyager we did this' or 'on the Freedom we did that.' That's great, it works for those ships. The thing is this ship and the Oasis are totally unique. The experience is totally different than anything that we offer [in the rest of the fleet]. So it is important for [managers and crew] to understand the product here, what we are trying to accomplish and what we are trying to achieve, what we are trying to offer the guests and maintain that.”
The cruise experience presented on Oasis and Allure departs from the traditional model in which an evening aboard ship revolved around the two seatings in the main dining room and two performances in the ship's theater. “It is not your traditional pre-dinner show/ after dinner show [model]. You have two, sometimes three shows, happening at the same time. You have Blue Planet going on while there is an ice show going on and there is something else in the Aqua Theater. There is something happening all the time. That changes the dynamics and the flow of the guests, which impacts revenue and other areas as well.”
Indeed, this model is key to Allure's ability to serve some 6,000 passengers without overcrowding and long lines. “The way we have the ship broken up into neighborhoods and because we have so many activities at the same time which cater to different age groups, shows at the same time, specialty dining and complimentary restaurants all over the place, people are just everywhere. They branch out to all the different areas so it is kind of evenly spread.”
For management, a new model presents new challenges. “Everything is interconnected. If you take one card out, the whole [house of cards] comes down. Don't tap into the DNA of the concept because there has been a lot of thought and a lot of effort in them.”
“When you make a decision onboard a ship you have to think what impact does it have. While it may be very good for one particular area, it may also impact all the other areas. Here, we make a collaborative decision so everyone has a stake in it.”
“We have it down to a science now. The team is very focused on what they are supposed to be doing and [on maintaining] the integrity of the concepts. Everyone is very much together with the common goal of providing the best vacation experience that we can. As we always say, it has to be a safe and fun vacation at the same time. If we can continue to provide that, that is the recipe for success.”
This does not mean that there have been no changes to Allure since the ship entered service in December 2010. As Mr. Mendonca mentioned, there has been some fine tuning.
For example, one of Allure's unique features is Central Park, a large, outdoor garden complete with live plants. Over time, the type of plants populating this area has evolved. “The Central Park is a very sensitive area because it is open to the elements in all types of weather. That affects the plants because they are in such a confined environment. While they all do very well at the nursery, when we bring them aboard some adapt better than others.”
“It still amazes me. When you walk through there it is just beautiful. In the evenings you can have dinner outdoors at Giovanni's or Chops, and it is just nice to sit outside. Which cruise ship in the world offers you that opportunity? That is one of the little things with which we elevate the wow.”
Along the same lines, there have been adjustments to enhance some of the shows presented aboard. “They have added a few new scenes to Blue Planet and changed some of the other scenes. [With regard to the OceanAria Aqua Show], we took some of the elements out because we changed casts. Plus they have revamped the show a little bit to keep it alive. Chicago is still the same and will continue to be the same.”
A few changes have been made to the dining venues. When the ship entered service, the 150 Park specialty restaurant presented a fine dining experience orchestrated by a young, up and coming chef who was in residence on the ship. (See article). Now, the restaurant is under the direction of a chef with a more established reputation. “We have partnered up with Michael Schwartz. [The new restaurant concept] has been taken from what he does on land - - he has Michael's in Miami. He uses all natural and organic ingredients. He has partnered with local producers and local farmers and we get all the supplies from them. The menu has changed a bit but the experience is just as good. Its a different type of cuisine. It is still fine dining and still beautiful.”
There have also been adjustments to the Windjammer, Allure's main buffet restaurant. There is a Windjammer buffet restaurant on every Royal Caribbean ship. But because Allure has so many alternative dining venues, including other complimentary buffet venues, it was assumed that the ship would not need a Windjammer that was proportional to the size of the ship.
“Despite all the onboard marketing that we have done and despite word of mouth from the waiters and everybody else channeling the guests to different areas - - try Park Cafe, try the Solarium, try Johnny Rockets, which is complimentary for breakfast, and you have the [main dining room] as well - - everybody still heads up to the Windjammer. They've been doing it for years [on earlier RCI ships] and it is a culture now. It is difficult to break up that culture.”
Therefore, a new system had to be developed to reduce overcrowding in the Windjammer. “Under the new system that we have, people wait to be seated [until a table is available]. We actually usher you to the table, we show you where it is. When the guests get their food, there will be a table waiting for them. [They do not have to] walk around [looking for a table] with the food getting cold. By doing that, we have been able to reduce the amount of cold food comments and also reduce the amount of people saying I couldn't find a table. That is actually working very well. If you go to any restaurant ashore, you wait to be seated.”
Allure entered service to rave reviews. Three years later, she is still able to command premium prices and high guest satisfaction ratings. “Our numbers speak for themselves. Because of its uniqueness and the opportunities it provides the overall experience is so great - - people just want to come aboard. Plus, you have the ones who have been aboard and who keep coming back and keep coming back.”
“I still get excited every time. I get more and more excited. Sometimes I stand on the mezzanine on welcome aboard days and I look at people's faces when they are walking onto the Royal Promenade for the first time. It is wow. People get blown away as soon as they come aboard. And that is just the hardware. The software is the crew, which is the most important part. They take it to the next level by providing the service. “
Cruise ship interview - - Royal Caribbean - - Allure of the Seas - - Hotel Director Joao Mendonca