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Allure of the Seas takes on the title of Biggest Cruise Ship in the World. Words: Sally Macmillan

In November last year, I was lucky enough to take a preview cruise on board Allure of the Seas, the newest, biggest baby in Royal Caribbean International’s now 22-ship fleet. Three days at sea from Allure and Oasis of the Seas’ homeport of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, allowed a thorough sampling of many of the ship’s extraordinary features, though you could easily spend three weeks on board and still discover something new.

To give you an idea of the sheer size of Allure, here are a few dazzling vital statistics. She sits about 65 metres above the waterline – 16 metres too tall to fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge – and is just over 360 metres long and 64 metres wide, with no less than 16 decks. She can accommodate a maximum of 6,360 guests (with double occupancy) in 2,706 staterooms, 1,956 of which have balconies – though it came as a shock to find I’d been assigned a stateroom with a balcony that didn’t overlook the ocean but rather, the Boardwalk area on Deck 6 and the corresponding balcony cabins on the starboard side!

Passengers are looked after by a total of 2,384 crew, and all those I encountered were upbeat and helpful. The West Indian members of the crew were particularly entertaining: quick with the quips, they helped add to the sense of theatricality you experience just by being on board this ship. Lights, camera, sound, action … it’s got the lot.

Allure is almost identical to Oasis of the Seas – in the words of Captain Hernan Zini, Oasis is now the “older, shorter” sister.  As well as famously being just five millimetres longer, Allure boasts several brand-new features, some of which will be incorporated into other ships in the RCI fleet. Continuing the theatrical theme, for example, a partnership with DreamWorks Animation brings movie characters from Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon to ‘life’ on board: they pop up at breakfast in the main dining room and in parades down the Royal Promenade – and, of course, star in the How To Train Your Dragon and Madagascar aqua shows. 3-D movies
in the Amber Theatre and OceanAria, a spectacular aquatic show that involves high-diving and acrobatics at the aft end of the Boardwalk, are among other innovations in the entertainment line-up.

The Oasis-class concept – whereby the ship is segmented into seven ‘neighbourhoods’ – continues on Allure. Central Park, on Deck 8, boasts a similar profusion of living trees and plants to its equivalent space on Oasis, but has a new signature restaurant, 150 Central Park, named after its location: the ship’s 150th structural frame. This stylish boutique restaurant offers modern American cuisine for a US$35 per person surcharge. Out of a total of 26 restaurants, you pay extra to dine at the following specialty venues: Chops Grille; Giovanni’s Table; Izumi; Rita’s Cantina; and the Samba Grill.

I sampled several dishes from 150 Central Park: the crispy duck with a fig-and-bitter-greens salad and walnut butter was a memorable one. Rita’s Cantina serves Mexican fare and margaritas in all colours of the rainbow, and the Boardwalk Doghouse offers 26 varieties of snags. I also enjoyed two top-quality dinners at the main three-deck-high dining room Adagio and another at Giovanni’s Table in Central Park. Breakfast and lunch at Windjammer and the Solarium Bistro comprised an impressive range of light, super-fresh menu options.

Fancy a cocktail? There are dozens of bars on board serving them. My favourite was the Rising Tide Bar, for novelty value alone: it glides up and down between Central Park on Deck 8 and the Royal Promenade on Deck 5, adding a whole new dimension to people-watching. Dazzles was another good haunt, with live music, impeccable service and spectacular sunset views over the aft of the ship; and the al fresco Pool and Mast bars on Deck 16 were well attended at all times of the day.

When you’ve over-indulged in the food and beverage departments, there are plenty of activities available to help you work off excess kilojoules. The Pool and Sports Zone stretches over the length of the ship on the top decks and is an adventure playground for kids of all ages. You can fly above the ship on the zip line (flying fox), play basketball, volleyball and soccer on the Sports Court, and test your surfing skills in the FlowRider® pool. There are four pools (plus children’s wading and toddler pools) and 10 whirlpools, none of which seemed crowded on our cruise. Possibly this was because there were only about 2,000 passengers aboard – but there are so many venues and activities vying for passengers’ attention that I imagine even when the ship is sailing at full capacity, there will still be plenty of space for everyone.

If you’re on a quest to keep fit, you’ll find a dedicated jogging track on Deck 5, accessible from the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center. This spa, like the rest of the ship, is state-of-the-art. It has 158 gleaming exercise machines and pampering treatments that range from hairdressing to aromatherapy, tooth- whitening and mother-and-daughter massages. The contemporary Japanese-inspired décor includes an entire wall that was imported from Japan.

Another peaceful retreat is the adults-only Solarium, a glass-walled two-deck area at the bow of the ship. Here, you can take relaxation to new levels, whether you’re snoozing in a sublime ‘pod’, immersing yourself in a whirlpool suspended over the ocean or taking a dip in the pool.

Shopaholics can indulge in their favourite pastime at the array of outlets along the Royal Promenade and Boardwalk (the GUESS accessory boutique and Britto gallery are two more Allure firsts). That said, I couldn’t find a bookshop or newsagency anywhere on board!

As for accommodation, my Boardwalk View balcony suite on Deck 8 was spacious – a comfortable 16.9 square metres (182 square feet) – and was equipped with all the mod cons you’d expect, including an iPod dock so you can BYO music. Just no ocean view!