by Louise Goldsbury
When the much-hyped Oasis of the Seas launched last year, it seemed nothing could top a 6,400-passenger ship with 18 decks, 21 swimming pools, 37 bars and 24 restaurants. Then along came her sister, Allure of the Seas, boasting all of those features and a whole lot more – plus an extra five centimetres.
As Allure’s Captain, Hernan Zini, said: “If you had the choice of two sisters, and one is older, shorter and heavier, which would you choose?”
And with those words, the ultimate sibling rivalry began.
Royal Caribbean has gone to great lengths (362 metres of them, in fact) to give its new US$1.13 billion vessel her own personality. It started with bringing onboard DreamWorks movie characters. Shrek, Princess Fiona, Puss In Boots, Po (from Kung Fu Panda) and the cast of ‘Madagascar’ perform in shows, host breakfasts and turn up randomly to greet kids (and adults). It’s like Disneyland on the ocean.
Entertainment for grown-ups is also better, with none of the stereotypical cheesiness often seen on cruises. ‘Chicago: The Musical’ stars singers and dancers from the Broadway and West End productions, and there is no extra cost to see it. The ‘Blue Planet’ aerial acrobatic show is truly magnificent (don’t miss the underwater scene). Then there are the ice-skating shows (yes there is an ice rink on the ship) and the breathtaking high-diving displays in the open-air AquaTheatre.
Allure of the Seas has three new dining options compared to Oasis: Samba Grill, a Brazilian churrascaria (US$25 surcharge); Rita’s Cantina, a Mexican restaurant (US$7.95 surcharge) and the Boardwalk Dog House serving free hot dogs. Other nifty improvements include in-cabin iPod docks, a Starbucks, a Guess store, an art gallery and the use of iPads to place your order at Vintages wine bar.
Of course, the megaliner has all the whiz-bang features seen on Oasis: a zip line (flying fox), FlowRider surfing simulators, two rock-climbing walls, a two-storey shopping mall, a massive gym and day spa, basketball court, golf course, running track and free childcare for up to 1,800 kids.
Drinkers are spoilt with three-dozen places to kick back, depending on your mood or time of day. The Rising Tide is a moving bar that slowly rises up and down three decks. Crown Viking Lounge, on deck 17, provides the best view of the sunset. Pool Bar and Sky Bar are also perched on the top deck for some outdoor lubrication. Boleros, a Latin-themed bar, is best for after-dinner dancing and night-owls can turn it up a notch at Dazzles or Blaze nightclubs. Champagne Bar is classy, Schooners is casual and Jazz on 4 is sexy, with live bands and sultry singers. The casino is always buzzing like a little Las Vegas.
But the question for many people is whether the world’s biggest ship is too big. In my honest opinion, the answer is no. If anything, the size is overwhelming and mind-blowing in a good way.
Allure is very well designed, separated into several smaller spaces (called neighbourhoods) and has so many facilities and activities that people are spread out. It’s possible to escape to open spaces, such as the leafy Central Park, the top deck and pool areas and the amphitheatre at the stern with stadium-like seating and massive LED screens showing sports.
Often there were fewer than ten people in a café or bar and hundreds of deck chairs lay empty beside the pools. I never waited longer than 30 seconds for a lift and the embarkation and disembarkation processes were amazingly fast. The only queues were for the Johnny Rockets American-style diner (half-an-hour wait) and the zip line (about 15 minutes).
The most important measurement for a ship is its gross tonnage, which identifies the space per passenger and at 225,282 tonnes, Allure of the Seas is more spacious than most big ships. ??On the other hand, when you feel like joining in the fun with fellow passengers or partying with a crowd, it’s easy to find some action.
Navigational touch-screens and around 2,000 crew are always available to assist you with whatever you need.
The other advantage is that the cliché is true: there really is something for everyone. Families will be in heaven with the playrooms for children and the parent-free zone for teenagers. Almost 40 degree-qualified staff are employed to look after kids of all ages.
Couples will find romantic nooks everywhere, from the spas that hang over the side of the ship, to the fine-dining at Chops Grille or 150 Central Park. Singles won’t feel left out either, thanks to the myriad of bars, lounges and clubs.
The cabins are comfortable and priced according to the level of luxury, ranging from an inside cabin overlooking the Boardwalk, to split-level loft suites with dining room, lounge room, wrap-around balcony, Jacuzzi and a baby grand piano.
Departing from Florida, in the United States, Allure of the Seas sails year-round, offering seven-night Caribbean cruises. Ports of call include Falmouth, Jamaica; Basseterre, St Kitts; Philipsburg, St Maarten; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; Nassau, Bahamas; Labadee, Haiti; and Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico.
How much – Priced from around NZ$1,500 a person, twin share, for a seven-night Caribbean cruise.
How to get there – Allure of the Seas departs every week of the year from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Domestic airlines provide connection from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale Airport, which is a short taxi ride to the port.
Where to stay – Arrive a couple of days early for a pre-cruise chill-out in Fort Lauderdale. Special deals for cruise passengers can be found at www.sunny.org/cruiseandplay.