As the biggest ship in the world sets sail on her maiden voyage today (1 December, 2010), we get the lowdown on what it is really like on board the Allure of the Seas.
Allure of the Seas was the second of the mega-ships to be unveiled by Royal Caribbean International last November, following Oasis of the Seas, which launched in 2009.
Oasis of the Seas may have hogged the headlines as the world’s biggest cruise ship, but Allure of the Seas has stolen the crown, thanks to an extra 5cm in length.
Allure of the Seas has also been styled as an “entertainment ship”, and the focus is on its fun features; from the introduction of Shrek and other celebrated DreamWorks characters to the debut of the Broadway show Chicago; a clutch of new dining venues; a Starbucks coffee bar and designer stores which also make their sea-going debut.
This is one huge ship (see our Allure of the Seas Comparison Chart to see exactly how huge) and anyone getting on-board for the first time cannot fail to be impressed by the scale of this $1.5 billion floating giant. It’s a little bit of Las Vegas on the open seas; a shopping mall and an entertainment complex rolled into one. With enough cabins to accommodate more than 6,300 passengers, there are a lot of people to get aboard, but when I embarked the whole process went very smoothly and took just 15 minutes.
There is a mind-boggling choice of cabins on Allure of the Seas, with 37 categories in all. These range from the ground-breaking two-storey loft suites to AquaTheater suites with wraparound balconies, and Royal Family Suites sleeping up to eight. Another unique category of cabin is BoardWalk View and Central Park View, overlooking these neighbourhoods. I stayed in a Central Park view cabin, which was comfortable and fairly spacious, with one of the cosiest beds I’ve ever slept in. The décor, design and layout were ideal for a cabin of this class, but I found it odd that I couldn’t see the sea or sky. It was more reminiscent of staying in a hotel, with a view over its enclosed garden, and I never felt the urge to sit on my balcony – it was simply too public.
Friendly and reasonably efficient – though could be better. The restaurant staff were attentive and amusing, though on one night they forgot my dessert as it never appeared! The waiting staff in the Samba Grill were particularly helpful and took immediate action when we asked to swap tables. My cabin steward improved after a poor first impression when he barged into my cabin without apology and started vacuuming the doorway! He never introduced himself or welcomed me onboard, but in subsequent conversations he was jolly and sociable – even if he was rather inefficient.
With 26 dining options, passengers can virtually eat their way around the world. Making their debut are the novel Rita’s Cantina Mexican restaurant and the Samba Grill Brazilian steakhouse where the meat is sliced off skewers at your table. The food at both was good, though the atmosphere failed to live up to the hype. The Boardwalk Dog House was another new eating spot serving hotdogs, while Starbucks made its at-sea debut with a dedicated coffee bar in the Royal Promenade. Top of the bill is the upmarket 150 Central Park, while the Solarium Bistro serves up a classier ambience and healthier options for breakfast and lunch. The Windjammer Marketplace buffet restaurant had an excellent selection of dishes while the main Adagio Dining Room offered pleasant surroundings and reasonable fare.
Easily the best I’ve seen on a cruise ship. Royal Caribbean International really sets the standards in this field. Its tie-up with DreamWorks means characters such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda can be seen around the ship and at fun character breakfasts. But the highlight is a fabulous parade of characters through the Royal Promenade. The shows are also ground-breaking, including the excellent Blue Planet, the most innovative production I’ve ever seen; Broadway show Chicago, which was also an extremely high standard; entertaining ice shows; and impressive aquatic performances at the AquaTheater. Then there is the 3D movie screen plus 17 bars and lounges including a comedy club, karaoke nightspot, jazz club, casino and nightclub.
Another area where Allure of the Seas really shines. There are more than 20 swimming pools and hot tubs, two rock-climbing walls, two FlowRider surf simulators, mini-golf, zipline, carousel, ice-skating rink, running track and 25 shops.
This is such a huge ship that it has been split into seven neighbourhoods or themed areas and these work well. The most novel is Central Park, a pleasant and tranquil outdoor spot. More lively is the Boardwalk where the carousel and fairground games give it a jolly, family atmosphere. The Royal Promenade is a huge parade of shops, bars and cafes and the location of the Rising Tide bar which moves between decks.
There are more than 170 excursions, ranging from Harley-Davidson tours and jungle hiking in Cozumel and dolphin and sealion encounters in Nassau to voluntourism outings in the US Virgin Islands and a quad bike adventure in St Maarten.
The Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Centre is a huge awe-inspiring facility stretching over two decks, but it still manages to retain a tasteful and peaceful ambience. It offers more than 60 treatments and there are 29 treatment rooms, a thermal suite, medi-spa, YSPA for kids and teens, and mud lounge. There’s also, what is intriguingly called a “Men’s Cave”, a tucked-away area for barber grooming treatments and facials. Also included are a large hair salon and Vitality Café.
The Youth Zone is huge, covering nearly 29,000 sq ft and catering for youngsters from six months in the Royal Babies and Tots nursery to teenagers. There are numerous play areas such as the Workshop, Imagination Studio, science lab, play area and an impressive dedicated children’s theatre where youngsters can stage their own shows. For older children there are “teen-only” areas with a disco and The Living Room lounge area plus outdoor deck space.
If you like cruises to be big and busy, then this is the ship for you. Allure ticks all the boxes when it comes to activities, entertainment and facilities, but it doesn’t really feel like a cruise ship – more a floating resort. For first-timers not bothered about going to sea, it’s perfect; and for families and multi-generational groups each looking for something different, Allure is ideal. The main test is how well it handles such vast numbers of people, but feedback from sister ship Oasis seems to suggest this isn’t a problem.
• For the full review see next month’s issue of Cruise International – out on January 14
Read more about Allure of the Seas here