My fondest memories of cruising date back to a port-a-day in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea aboard a small ship, the “Cunard Princess.” It was not luxurious, but there was lots of teak wood and shiny polished brass of the old sailing days. Upon arriving for the third time with escorting a group to board the “Cunard Princess” in Athens, the purser greeted us outside the terminal with a “Welcome back, Mr. de Vries” and since most of the crew worked for years on the same ship, it was like returning home. Then there was the “Oceanbreeze” from Dolphin Cruise Lines where the captain turned his ship around to allow for a good photo of our group without the ladies’ hair being blown by the wind. Today only some of the deluxe cruise lines like Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, Yachts of Seabourn and Crystal offer such service and one certainly pays for it.
So what was I, a fan of small ship cruising, doing on the world’s largest cruise liner in the world? The “Allure of the Seas” is the 2nd such mammoth ship that officially began sailingon December 5th from Ft. Lauderdale. And, yes, it is the largest cruise ship in the world, as captain Hernan Zini proudly confirmed that his ship is just short of 2 inches longer than the “Oasis of the Seas,” introduced last year. At a length of 1200 feet and 236 feet high, who is counting! STX Europe is a South Korean ship building conglomerate that was formed by combining several other ship building companies some years ago. The group was the first shipyard to build a specific cruise ship, the “Song of Norway,”instead of ocean liners. In addition to building the world’s largest cruise ferry now sailing in northern Europe, the company built the “Oasis of the Seas” for Royal Caribbean International. According to its managing director, Juha Heikinheimo, the yard completed the new “Allure of the Seas” at a staggering cost of approximately $1.5 billion. 181 grand blocks were built and fitted with 150 miles of piping to create this cruise ship.
When we received an invitation for a 2 day inaugural cruise just before the ship began its regular Caribbean program, we accepted mainly out of curiosity and because our travelcompany, America Travel Arrangements, here on Marco Island had only received high accolades from the many clients cruising on the sister ship, the “Oasis of the Seas.” Despite the astounding number of up to 6,318 guests and some 2300 crew there were absolutely no complaints, no long lines, no waiting for practically anything. So here was my chance to experience this wonder myself.
From parking our car, to arriving in our stateroom did not take more than 15 minutes. Our room was an “inside” cabin. But we had a balcony overlooking Boardwalk, with a real carousel right below us as well as the Aqua Theater. Kathy Lee, Adam Sandler and Katie Holmes had just left the ship and there were “only” 4,500 guests on this sailing.
During our two days of cruising on this floating city the only crowd we encountered was at the parade when 80 actors & crew presented the “Dreamworks” movie characters on the “Royal Promenade.” With an ale in hand we had prime view seats at the “Bow & Stern” pub.
It was impossible to experience everything on the “Allure of the Seas” in two days, but it is amazingly easyto get anywhere without getting lost. Every one of the 17 decks has easy-to-view ship models and maps. The innovative interactive screens were really a hit: touch the screen for restaurants and it will show percentage of occupancy, click on “shows” and every detail of the programs is displayed. We watched a spectacular ice show, a full theater production, “Blue Planet,” that would amaze even the most seasoned Las Vegas and Broadway aficionados. And last but not least: “Chicago,” performed with riveting perfection.
We did not come anywhere close to trying all 26 restaurants and eateries, from Johnny Rockets hamburger diner to the Brazilian Steakhouse, Rita’s Mexican Cantina, Chops Grill, 150 Central Park, Vintages, or Giovanni’s Table. There is even the “Rising Tide Bar” moving between decks starting at the Royal Promenade. For sports enthusiasts there are many venues including two climbing walls, the opportunity to try surfing at one of two “Flowriders” and zip lining across the ship, in addition to all the usual sports offered on board cruise ships nowadays. From our balcony we watched as performers soared from frightening heights down into the 17.9 feet deep water of the largest poolat sea behind “Boardwalk” on deck 6. Captain Zini explained that during such precision shows his staff has to make 100% sure the ship is on an even keel. A variation of only one degree would mean trouble for the divers. For guests on board it is difficult to imagine you are on a cruise ship, as there is little or no movement and so many events on board take place without even having a glimpse of the ocean below. For 42 year old Captain Zini it is a life he began at the age of twelve in a row boat back in his native country, Argentina, that has brought him now to control 225,000 tons with four 7,500 horsepower bow thrusters maneuvered by a couple of joy sticks. He calls it his video game.
For my wife, Jill and I, the most amazing feature of the ship was that once onboard, it didn’t feel anywhere near as enormous as it looked from the outside. One can enjoy an almost private sunset from one of many Jacuzzis, have a quiet dinner for two, or just watch people from the terrace of a café.After the performance of “Chicago” on our last evening we stopped off at the “Comedy Club” and danced to 70’s music at a night club called “Dazzles.” We ended our evening enjoying a classical duet performing in an intimate corner of Central Park while sipping a drink made with some of the 110,231 lbs of ice cubes made daily on board and being surrounded by 12,175 plants, 62 vine plants, 56 trees and some bamboo over 24 feet in height. All in the middle of the ocean.
We were very impressed with Royal Caribbean’s newest addition. “Allure of the Seas” is undoubtedly a cruise ship for families and groups of friends. The itinerary is unimportant, for this amazing floating resort is your destination.
Ewout Rijk de Vries and his wife Jill have been on Marco Island for 26 years and own America Travel Arrangements, Inc. They offer full service at the same price or better one will be able to find on the internet. Ewout also has a background as a journalist. His photography and articles have been published in a wide array of newspapers and magazines. His company, Ewout Rijk de Vries Photography offers wedding & commercial photography.www.americatravelarrangements.com and www.photodevries.com