There are many aspects of the world’s largest and most innovative cruise ship that knock you for six. Its 16 passenger decks. Its seven neighbourhoods. Its basketball courts and swimming pools. Its living, breathing Central Park.
Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas is so ostentatiously epic that you sometimes find yourself staring at vast expanses of it - hypnotised by its majesty.
But for the kids on board, the show is stolen by a pop culture icon. The Barbie Premium Experience was rolled out to Royal Caribbean’s entire fleet in March, joining a repertoire of themed cruise packages - including Star Trek and Harry Potter - that have sailed the seas in recent years.
Signing up to this optional extra on our seven-night cruise from Florida to the Caribbean and Mexico meant that my six-year-old niece Jessica, girlfriend Molly and I began our week by opening the door of our stateroom to a mountain of Barbie paraphernalia. We had a blanket, handbag, pillowcase, toothbrush, toiletries and, of course, several dolls and a swathe of fashionable outfits.
I did consider, momentarily, hiding the stash in my suitcase and using it for this year’s Christmas presents. But Jessica had other ideas. Within moments she wanted everything.
On our way to the invitation-only Tiaras and Teacups Party, where Jessica and the other Barbies-on-board would be learning table etiquette in the ship’s elegant main dining room, I held Jessica’s Barbie bag while she fiddled with her shoes.
A man passing by clocked me and, assuming I was her father, offered a knowing smirk. We got chatting. “This place is perfect for kids,” he said, helping his five-year-old daughter pour herself pink lemonade from a dainty china teapot.
Seeing Eva, Jessica and the other girls forge some early friendships, while being served a selection of French pastries, I had to agree.
The fact that cruises dedicated to children exist at all might surprise parents who have never holidayed in this manner - but even seasoned veterans will be blown away by Allure’s impressive range of entertainment offerings for kids.
It’s not just about Barbie, either.
For little ones too old, too young or too indifferent to plastic dolls, there are plenty more adventures to enjoy. A fully staffed state-of-the-art activity and education programme caters for all ages, with play areas for six-month-olds right through to talent contests and video games for pre-teens.
Adventure Ocean is tailored to whatever interests your young ones could possibly have. Children are also given an opportunity to make friends with others their age from potentially 50 different countries.
One of the most rewarding sights on our trip was watching Jessica and her Canadian friend successfully teaching a Chinese girl a clapping game while reciting the nursery rhyme Miss Susie, with no adult intervention needed.
And often, as we discovered, kids having fun prefer it if adults don’t intervene at all. Open from breakfast until the early hours, Adventure Ocean gives them a break from their parents (and vice versa!) at almost any time of day or night.