Sea monster: on board the world's biggest cruise ship

A new liner so large it's divided into 'neighbourhoods' has unexpected advantages for passengers, writes Louise Goldsbury.

STOPPING abruptly halfway across the gangway, a red-haired girl is almost in tears. It's not that she doesn't want to get on the gigantic ship - she doesn't want to get off. After meeting Shrek, feasting on cupcakes and playing with new friends way past her bedtime, this pouting princess has never had so much fun afloat. She even sneaked into the front row of Chicago and guzzled champagne on an all-night bar crawl.

OK, so I was that girl and after four days on Allure of the Seas, I can honestly say there's no such thing as too big. Every centimetre counts and apparently the "new ship on the dock" is five centimetres longer than its "big sister" Oasis of the Seas, which launched last December.

This all-important measurement makes Allure of the Seas the world's largest cruise ship and its size extends unexpected advantages. The previous night, for example, there were just six people in the jazz club. Waiters delivered martinis to our table within two minutes and a quartet performed an almost-private gig for us.

So where was everyone? Conveniently, they were spread out between the other 40-odd bars, restaurants, theatres and the ship's casino - or sleeping after a busy day on board. The beauty of this behemoth is that it's divided into smaller spaces, or "neighbourhoods". Depending on your mood, you can join the party with hundreds of cruisers or find a quiet spot.

Royal Caribbean has gone to great lengths (no pun intended) to give its $US1.13 billion vessel a personality distinct from Oasis; on Allure, the focus is on branded entertainment.

The cruise line signed a deal with the animation company DreamWorks to bring its movie characters to life on board. Actors dressed as Shrek, Princess Fiona, Puss in Boots, Po from Kung Fu Panda and the cast of Madagascar perform shows, host breakfasts and pop up randomly to greet kids (and adults). The highlight is a 20-minute parade along the Royal Promenade. The Madagascar-themed show is a spectacle of penguins, divers and synchronised swimmers held in the open-air, oceanfront AquaTheatre. How to Train Your Dragon is also aimed at young ones and is staged on the ship's ice rink. Then there's the 3D screening of Megamind, at the time a new release.

Amusements for adults are arguably the highest standard seen at sea. Chicago: the Musical stars performers from Broadway and West End productions and costs no extra. The Blue Planet aerial acrobatic show has some truly magnificent sets.

Also exclusive to Allure are three new dining options: a Brazilian churrascaria, Samba Grill (a surcharge of $US25 [$25.16] a person); a Mexican restaurant, Rita's Cantina ($US7.95 surcharge); and an outdoor counter serving "gourmet" hot dogs, the Boardwalk Dog House. Vintages wine bar has introduced a novelty, too: ordering via an iPad.


Other tweaks include in-cabin iPod docks, a Starbucks, a Guess store and a Romero Britto art gallery. The two-storey shopping mall is less intrusive than it sounds, largely because nothing can possibly dominate on an 18-deck, 362-metre megaliner.

Allure has all of the gee-whiz features seen on Oasis. In addition to a crew of 2100, the ship can carry 6400 passengers - greater than the population of many Australian towns and with more facilities. Allure has extensive childcare, plus

21 swimming pools and hot tubs, two rock-climbing walls, a basketball court, golf course, running track, gym and a day spa that provides everything from teeth-whitening to father-and-son massages. Passengers can soar along a zipline (flying fox) nine decks high, or go more slowly up and down three decks with a cocktail at the moving bar, Rising Tide.

Accommodation, in 2700 cabins, ranges from rooms that overlook the tree-lined Central Park to a two-storey loft suite complete with grand piano.

The main concern about a so-called "floating city" is whether it will be overcrowded. I sailed with 4000 other passengers when the usual double-occupancy figure is 5600, yet the ship appeared to be nowhere near capacity. Allure's gross tonnage of 225,282 means that it has more space per passenger than most other big ships.

Plus, Allure had one of the fastest embarkation processes I have ever experienced: I never waited more than 30 seconds for a lift. The only long queues were for the zipline and the FlowRider surfing. At lunchtime there was a 30-minute wait for a table at Johnny Rockets, an American diner with great burgers and shakes, but it's easy enough to move on to the next place or put your name down earlier.

Having surcharges on half of the restaurants is an effective tactic to deter the hordes. Couples can enjoy a civilised fine-dining experience at Chops Grille for $US25 a person or an innovative tasting menu at 150 Central Park ($US35 a person). Giovanni's Table is better for families, charging $US10-$US15 for lunch or dinner.

But the best things on Allure are free: a walk in the park, sunbathing on the pool deck, the top-notch entertainment and random appearances by ogres.

The writer was a guest of Royal Caribbean Cruises.

Trip notes

Getting there

United Airlines, V Australia, Qantas and Delta fly from Sydney to Los Angeles or San Francisco, with connections to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Allure of the Seas is based. 13 31 33,

Cruising there

Allure of the Seas offers seven-night cruises in the Caribbean, visiting Mexico, Jamaica and the Bahamas. Fares are from $1149 a person, twin share. 1800 754 500,

More information

Allure for all

FOR KIDS The DreamWorks parade on the Royal Promenade; the character breakfasts.

FOR COUPLES Four hot tubs hang over the edge of the ship.

FOR SINGLES Boleros, a Latin-themed bar, for after-dinner dancing; Dazzles or Blaze nightclubs for late-night mingling.

FOR FOODIES 150 Central Park, Chops Grille, Samba Grill, Giovanni's Table.

FOR DRINKERS Rising Tide, Vintages, Champagne Bar.

FOR SUNSET Crown Viking Lounge on deck 17.

FOR ADVENTURERS FlowRider surfing, rock-climbing, ziplining.

FOR MUSIC LOVERS Chicago: the Musical, Jazz on 4, Boleros.

At a glance

LENGTH 361.8 metres

HEIGHT 72 metres (above water line)

TONNAGE 225,282 (gross tonnage)

DECKS 16 passenger decks

SPEED 22.6 knots (41.9 km/h)

CAPACITY 5400 passengers (lower berths); 6400 passengers (all berths)

POWER Six Wartsila diesel engines (97,000 kW)