Broadcaster Katy Hill and family set off on their first cruise on board Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas – and are instantly impressed…

Katy-Hill-review
The scenic Caribbean © Corbis

There’s a quote on my gym bag by the Danish author Isak Dinesen (of Out of Africa fame): “The cure for anything is saltwater – sweat, tears or the sea.” It’s resonated with me for a while and given that I’ve always found the sea cathartic, I couldn’t think of a better way to launch into 2015 than on board our first family cruise.

Katy-HillThis wasn’t my first foray into unchartered waters as my husband Trey and I went on a cruise to French Polynesia when I was pregnant with our daughter Kaya, now eight. I was intrigued to see how our experience then would compare to cruising with Kaya and her brother Akira, five, in tow.
Pulling into Fort Lauderdale the kids’ jaws hit the floor when they saw our ship, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas for the first time. Kaya thought it was a building and we couldn’t believe how it seemed to dwarf everything around it. The check-in queues moved with impressive speed given that 6,000 people were boarding and before we knew it we walked into the impressive Boardwalk with it’s high, cavernous ceilings, vintage car, fountains and moving bar. Kids. Minds. Blown.

At first it felt a bit as though everyone but us seemed to know what was going on, but as soon as we found our way to deck seven and Stateroom 264, calm was restored. The kids headed excitedly out onto our balcony and marvelled at the view while I unpacked our bags, which had already arrived. One of the bonuses was that the kids’ bed was actually a sofa by day; and we were taken care of by the fabulous attendant Inengah Suartana. Also, ocean view balcony plus kids in the clubs means bye bye tan lines. Just saying.

Family fun & fitness

We quickly discovered there is a LOT of fun to be had on board Allure of the Seas, which for us kicked off with the Sailing Party. It’s a pretty special feeling leaving Fort Lauderdale with the sun setting, seeing the smiles on your kids’ faces as they watch King Julien, Gloria and the Dreamworks gang do their thing. Then, something I never thought I’d experience: ice-skating on a ship, which we did, several times. The ship’s slight movement added extra zest to the family experience. The FlowRider was also a huge hit. Heading there straight after breakfast soon became our favourite morning activity – we loved watching everyone trying to surf, with the occasional wipe-out. Kaya found it all hugely entertaining.

We’d then watch Daddy who, in typical picks-things-up-quickly fashion was soon in the advanced group.

If you’ve ever wanted to hang from a cable nine decks up and zoom through the air at high speed you’re in luck. The Zip Line was loads of fun, although I won’t pretend stepping off the edge didn’t take a bit of nerve. Kaya was totally fearless and did it 20 consecutive times, even inspiring nervous adults to have a go. Other sea days were packed with Crazy Golf, swimming in the five pools, cruising around on the carousel, hanging out in the Adventure Zone Kids Club (where parents can drop kids for free), watching puppet shows and doing Science Workshops. No wonder we slept so well at night.

Katy-Hill-review

Dining on board

With all your activities and food included, a cruise is crazy value for money. There were over 20 restaurants and cafés so you could, if you wanted to, eat from the minute you woke up, to the minute you went to sleep. And the quality of food is amazing, even before you consider they’re serving up 100,000 meals a day and everything is made fresh on board.

For a family, the dining possibilities were a dream as you could find something for all tastes at all times of day. We had the My Time Dining option in the main restaurant, Adagio, where we had the flexibility to eat at a time of our choosing, or just rock up whenever. Of the speciality restaurants on board, Rita’s Mexican Cantina on the Promenade served up the best snapper I’ve ever had, anywhere in the world. Giovanni’s Table in Central Park (yes, a park on a ship) was a great option for al fresco, Tuscan-themed evening dining which brought back memories of our wedding in Tuscany 10 years ago. After dinner, Trey and I had some quality time enjoying the band, while the kids ran around outdoors, exploring.

We generally had breakfasts in The Windjammer restaurant with its wonderful buffet and stunning ocean views then throughout the day, the numerous dining options were tested and, given that there were self-serve ice cream machines poolside, the kids were in heaven. We generally sat near the balcony edge so the kids could look down on the musicians and be entertained.

Shore days

A cruise isn’t just about the ship, it’s also about the destinations. All our excursions were well managed and the crew were very efficient at getting passengers on and off. Here are some snapshots of what we did:

Nassau, Bahamas: The Blue Lagoon was a perfect excursion choice for the day: chilling by the aqua blue waters, searching for shells, sipping fresh coconut which the kids watched being prepared, amazed at the huge machete. It was the perfect ‘white sand/no shoes’ beach day.

We loved every second.

St Thomas, Caribbean: We visited Magens Bay, regularly voted one of the world’s top 10 beaches. While we weren’t the only ones there we spent a lovely afternoon enjoying the beach life and sipping piña coladas. Rude not to.

St Maarten, Caribbean: This was our longest and favourite stop as you could walk everywhere. We spent the day on the beach, listening to a steel drum band and the lapping waves. The kids loved watching some school kids having their swimming lesson in the sea and a walk around the town ended the perfect shore day.

Katy-Hill-review

Entertainment

Wow. Just. Wow. What WASN’T on offer on Allure is possibly more the question. The breathtaking Aqua Show in an outdoor amphitheatre at the back of the boat made for a spectacular family evening under the stars, as did the various evening fountain shows to music. The Blue Planet show was a highlight for all of us and the underwater scene was one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen on a stage. Chicago, jazz shows, casino – there really was everything you needed if you wanted to party the night away, or you could hit the sack exhausted and content at 9pm like we did.

The crew

You can’t talk about Allure without mentioning the phenomenal crew, the good feeling clearly filtering down from the adored Captain Johnny Faevelen. We loved watching his antics on our TV, although we didn’t get to see him riding one of his two Harley-Davidson’s on board (no, I’m not joking). The wonderful Mauricio, Lori, Ben and Alvaro on the Zip Line couldn’t have been more amazing with Kaya; Bandoo looked after us in Adagio and Luis greeted everyone with a wonderful smile in Windjammer. And finally special mention to the amazing Nengay, the hardest working and happiest person on board, who kept our room looking stunning and delighted the kids every night with a new towel art sculpture.

So yes, cruising is a wonderful option for families. I could go on. And on. There were lots of extended families on board because all ages can have fun on a ship and you know where everyone is. And Allure is in Europe this summer. What are you waiting for?

GETTING THERE
A seven-night Western Mediterranean cruise on Allure of the Seas departs 21 August 2016 from £1,404 for two guests sharing (royalcaribbean.co.uk/0844 493 4005).

Whether you’re looking for a cultural holiday or relaxing break, find your perfect cruise here.


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