The 225,282-ton Allure of the Seas is the world's largest cruise ship -- by five centimeters. It can carry 5,492 passengers at double occupancy or 6,452 when every berth is full.
It also has a famous near-twin, Oasis of the Seas, with which it shares roughly 95 percent of its DNA -- including a novel neighborhood concept that divides the ship into seven distinct spaces. It also shares inward-facing balcony cabins, arguably the biggest (and best) kids program at sea, an ice rink, a bar that rises between three decks, simulated surfing, rock climbing walls and an outdoor high-diving AquaTheater. The pair will be joined by sibling Harmony of the Seas in March 2016.
The ship is breathtaking, both in scale and ambition. Although it's vast, it never feels overwhelming because its public spaces are broken up into seven neighborhoods. On Deck 4, you'll find Entertainment Place, complete with an indoor ice skating rink and various clubs and lounges. The Royal Promenade is the signature shopping area, the length of a football field, with a pair of enormous tented skylights to let the sunshine pour in. The outdoor Boardwalk neighborhood was inspired by Coney Island, with family-friendly restaurants, shops, a carousel and the AquaTheater. The foliage-filled Central Park -- covered in some 12,000 plants, 60 of which are trees -- is a more upscale restaurant and retail hub. The fronts of decks 6 and 7 are given over to fitness and well-being in the Vitality at Sea Spa. Deck 14 is all about the kids in Adventure Ocean, and, at the back of the ship, right up on Deck 15, you have the Sports Area, complete with FlowRider surf simulators, a zipline, mini-golf, Ping-Pong and basketball courts.
The ambience and atmosphere in each area are so distinct, it's as if there are seven different ships on one.
Astonishingly, Allure of the Seas also rarely feels crowded. The only places where you get a sense of the sheer number of people onboard are in the Royal Promenade during parade times, on sea days round the pool deck, and prime food times in the Windjammer Cafe buffet restaurant. You can sit in Central Park under a tree, drink in hand, stars above you, (piped) birdsong all around, and feel almost alone -- despite being overlooked by hundreds of cabins.
The ship is ideal for first timers, whether they're a family dipping their toes in the water for the first time, a group of friends looking for a fun-filled break or a couple celebrating a significant wedding anniversary.
Allure came out of a May 2015 refurbishment with a number of changes, including new dining options, shops, lounges, cabins and super fast Wi-Fi. Some of the post-dry dock tweaks -- which include a breathtaking Suite Lounge and suites-only dining room, Coastal Kitchen -- also point to a move by Royal Caribbean making a significant play for the high-end cruisers who perhaps have previously been put off by Allure's sheer size.
A word of warning: Allure of the Seas is so flooded with bill-busting offerings -- ice cream, extra-charge Mexican food, build-your-own stuffed animals, Coach bags -- that it's easy to forget about the included offerings, many of which are exclusive to the Oasis Class. You can surf or zip-line, ride a carousel or watch a first-run DreamWorks movie in 3D, and tap along to some Broadway showtunes. The Lady Gaga dance class had to be more fun than filling up on Skittles and gummy worms from the for-fee candy store. In other words, Allure can be enjoyed for the price of the cruise fare alone. But with so many temptations, it sure isn't easy.