It’s been a very pleasant evening: a sundowner cocktail, a fine dinner and a thrilling production of Chicago The Musical. Back in my room I slip off my shoes and step out on to the balcony. But goodness me, what is this vast expanse of water stretching to the horizon?
Oh yes, now I remember- that’s the sea.
When you’re on a ship as huge and as stately in her progress as Allure of the Seas there can be times when you actually forget you’re on a cruise. For this is not so much a vessel as a floating resort capable of carrying over 6300 guests and keeping them amused round-the-clock.
At 360 metres (1187 ft) Allure is the biggest ship in the world, nudging her Royal Caribbean sister Oasis of the Seas – launched last year and now ‘older, heavier and shorter’ as one crew member put it with mock bitchiness – into second place by just 5cm. To put that size into perspective she is longer than four football pitches and taller than Nelson’s Column.
She has 16 passenger decks, 24 lifts, 21 pools and whirlpools, intimate theatres and one that seats over 2000, dozens of shops, restaurants and bars – including one, The Rising Tide, which travels up and down between three levels - and a park with 12,000 plants, 56 trees and piped birdsong.
It sounds overwhelming and the sheer scale is undoubtedly daunting at first. But in fact it’s amazing how quickly one can familiarise oneself with everything with the aid of interactive signage, the daily newspaper Cruise Compass and the unfailingly helpful crew.
With nearly 2400 of them from 80 countries there always seems to be someone popping up to set you right if you look vaguely lost.
The real dilemma is deciding what to do. I only had three days of a preview cruise but even with a week or longer you would be hard pressed to take it all in.
Just eating – always a major feature on cruises – involves some tough decisions. Do you want to dine casually, for instance, in the self- service buffet with its spread of everything from roasts to curries to pasta tables? Or in the more formal dining room with waiter service?
Or on hot dogs, hamburgers or Mexican dishes in the Boardwalk area with its carousel and Coney Island inspired decor? Or, if you fancy a change from all this, there are speciality restaurants like the Asian Izumi or the Brazilian Samba Grill where for an extra £15 to £20 premium you can eat what would cost you two or three times as much on land.
If you want to work off those calories you can climb walls, play mini golf, basketball and table tennis, work out in the gym (classes include Pilates, spinning and kickboxing) or simply jog or walk around the promenade deck: two and a half laps is a mile. I managed that but bottled the ‘first zip line at sea’ which swishes guests along an 82 ft diagonal wire nine decks above the Boardwalk.
I similarly could not quite summon up the nerve for a go on the FlowRider surf simulator. For those of us not born and bred in California, there seemed no way to avoid looking a complete chump. The advice for ‘ladies to wear a T shirt’might also give a clue as to how rough those potentially bikini top snatching fake waves might be.
So I settled for more passive entertainment packing in, as well as Chicago, two ice shows, Oceanaria in the Aquatheatre which choreographs springboard and high diving with shooting fountains and coloured lights and the Blue Planet show with its stunning staging of singing, dancing and aerial acrobatics. Sequences such as the tree which slowly comes to life as its branches reveal themselves to be performers or the trampolining across three planes could hold their own with any land-based spectaculars.
I had to pass though, for lack of time, on the comedy and jazz clubs, the casino, the karaoke, the quizzes, the dance classes, the nightclub and the 3-D movie. But I did catch the grand parade featuring Shrek, the Kung Fu Panda and characters from Madagascar and How To Train Your Dragon.
The partnership with DreamWorks Animation has been launched on
Allure – Princess Fiona was this week named as the ship’s ‘godmother’, the industry’s first animated one - and there are plans to roll it out across others in the Royal Caribbean fleet.
The company is convinced that having breakfast with Shrek will be a winner with children and their families. And indeed you would have had to have a heart of stone not to be touched by the joyful expressions on little faces, crowned by the Shrek ears they’d been given, as their heroes came lumbering past patting heads or high-fiving.
Allure of the Seas sails out of Fort Lauderdale on either Eastern or Western Caribbean cruises: it alternates routes with Oasis. Seventy five per cent of guests are North American so there is a kind of exuberance and cheery lets-have-a-lotta-fun-here ambience for which perhaps more reserved Europeans should prepare themselves.
That said, nothing is compulsory and there is plenty of quiet space: a library, a craft workshop, a luxurious spa and various nooks where you could curl up with a book or snooze in the sun. And for those marking a special occasion or simply lashing out there are lavish suites with their own whirlpool tubs and cocktail bars on the balconies; one even has a grand piano.
And after dark the fact that most guests are partying or playing backjack or dancing in the disco means that the outside space is almost deserted. Late on the last night I took a turn around the top deck. There were a couple gazing into each other’s eyes in the Jacuzzi and an attendant doing a last tidy up. That apart, there was just me and the stars and the water slipping away beneath us. And I thought that however colossal these uber-ships seem in human terms, they are still only a little lighted speck on the vast mysterious ocean.
A number of UK agents and operators feature Allure of the Seas. Virgin Holiday cruises offer eight nights from £1239 based on two adults sharing an inside cabin. The price includes Virgin Atlantic flights from London Heathrow to Miami, transfers to Fort Lauderdale, one night in the Westin Beach Resort followed by seven nights full board on the ship.
Allure of the Seas
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