While Disney certainly competes when it comes to catering to the under-10s, no other line beguiles all children like Royal Caribbean, and Allure is among the best in the fleet for children's programming. Through Royal Caribbean's partnership with DreamWorks, trademarked characters materialize for photo-ops, perform at the AquaTheater and tickle kids during a character breakfast. (The breakfast takes place in American Icon twice a cruise for a charge of $10 for diners ages 6 and older; reservations are required.) We spotted Kung Fu Panda in the Royal Promenade, a sweaty Fiona in Central Park and the full DreamWorks army during the mesmerizing "Move It! Move It!" parade in the Royal Promenade. The ship also has a host of family-friendly cabins, with bunk beds and separate rooms (see Cabins).
The epicenter of the youth program is the 29,000-square-foot Adventure Ocean, an expansive Deck 14 complex split into age-appropriate spaces and rooms dedicated to science experiments (make snow in the Caribbean), theater instruction, arts and crafts, and a stay-and-play baby and toddler room.
Free drop-off camp programming is available for kids ages 3 and older. All the Adventure Ocean venues are open from a half hour before the ship arrives in port (as early as 6:30 a.m.) to 10 p.m. without a break. In other words, you can leave your kids onboard, and the youth staff will take them for lunch at noon and then an early dinner at a dedicated kids' space in the Windjammer Cafe, serving kid favorites, such as chicken nuggets, burgers, hot dogs and fries.
On sea days, it's a slightly different setup (perhaps forcing parents to spend time with their wee ones), with the club opening at 9 a.m. and closing at noon for lunch. It reopens from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and then again from 7 p.m. through to 10 p.m. You can opt to leave your child in the club from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., when youth staff will take the kids to a dedicated area in the Windjammer Cafe for a 6 p.m. kids dinner and then back to the club. There's no added fee for this, but know that the program does not operate every evening.
From 10:15 p.m. to 2 a.m., Adventure Ocean turns into a Late Night Party Zone for children between ages 3 and 11. It costs $7 per hour, per child. Themes might include "trash the room" (which sounds fun) or a glow theme night.
Parents need to register themselves and their kids at the beginning of the cruise and must sign kids in and out each time they visit the club. Kids are each issued a brightly colored wristband, which indicates muster station and must be worn at all times.
The quality of the kids' program onboard is second to none, with an exhausting range of age-appropriate activities taking place throughout the day and evening. These might include activities based on arts and science, as well as scavenger hunts, dress-up games, quizzes and sports for the older kids (see below for details). All ages will also go on supervised shipwide scavenger hunts.
There's a strong emphasis on "family" (i.e. not necessarily dropping your kids off all day), and you'll find lots of family-focused events in the Kids Daily Planner, which might include movies, art, dressing up and even participating in science experiments. There is also a talent show at the end of every cruise that parents are encouraged to attend, as well as an early evening family disco most evenings.
Royal Caribbean has recently become "autism friendly," and this extends to its kids programs. Allure offers toys that can be borrowed for in-cabin use, movies, games and activities that are suitable for kids with autism.
Royal Caribbean splits its Adventure Ocean program into the following age groups:
Aquanauts (3-5 years): Aquanauts get a fun, bright open space, complete with a slide and tunnel. The emphasis is on creativity and game playing, and Royal Caribbean has partnerships with Crayola and Fisher-Price, which means there are plenty of very colorful toys, games and supplies. A typical day might include dressing up as a pirate (or princess), Kung Fu Panda training school, puppetry, an animal "zoofari" or a space adventure. You can also request a mobile phone with a speed-dial to the room, should you want to check up on your little one. All Aquanauts must be fully toilet trained (there is a "no diaper" policy), so if you have a young 3-year-old he or she might be better off in Royal Tots.
Explorers (6-8 years): The Explorers get more of a sports-based program of activities, as well as time-controlled access to gaming equipment, such as Nintendo Wiis, as well as TVs mainly showing DreamWorks movies. Again, lots of natural light fills the room, and the main area is given over to soccer or boys vs. girls games. The program might include SpeedBall, learning circus skills, taking part in a talent show, and arts and crafts.
Voyagers (9-11 years): Voyagers will take part in role-play type games like Secret Agent, as well as science-based activities such as volcano building. They also play sports, both inside and out of Adventure Ocean. With parental consent, Voyagers get to sign themselves in and out of the program.
Adventure Ocean also features a science lab and a theater, which screens daily movies and plays host to the end-of-cruise talent show.
The Royal Babies & Tots Nursery is open to kids ages 6 months to 3 years. Inside, there are two rooms -- one a large, soft play area and the other a quiet room for napping with eight cribs. It's staffed by trained professionals and offers specially designed programs for babies and toddlers.
The drop-off nursery is bookable onboard only. The fee is $6 per child, per hour, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and $8 per child, per hour, between 6 p.m. and midnight.
There is also a large stay-and-play room, stuffed full of soft toys and games for the tiny ones. There, parents can play with their little ones for free.
Also in the area is one of Allure's two arcades, which features the typical array of enticements, including first-person shooters and grab-teddy-with-a-claw games. Options are, as expected, overpriced. For instance, it's $1.25 to play Skeeball.
Baby-sitting is available at a fee of $19 per hour for up to three children within the same family. In-cabin baby-sitting is not available for babies younger than 1 year.
If you're traveling with an infant, you can pre-order Huggies diapers, wipes, cream and Gerber organic baby food to be delivered right to your stateroom. Allure also has four strollers onboard that it lends out to families, free of charge.
Teens are classified as 12 to 17 years old, but note that on busy sailings the youth staff will split them into two groups -- 12- to 14-year-olds and 15- to 17-year-olds -- with different programs offered for each. The tween group is likely to have a slightly more structured program of activities, including rock climbing competitions, dodgeball and Dance Dance Revolution, as well as BBQs and movie nights, open mic nights, talent shows and Scratch DJ Academy. The older age group has a looser set of suggested activities, which might include theme nights, pool parties and teen dinners, as well as karaoke, Wii and basketball competitions.
Teens get their own area on Deck 15 aft, next to the sports court. It consists of three rooms: The Living Room, a hangout area; Fuel, a teens-only disco; and a video arcade.
The Living Room is really just a chill out/relaxation spot (with a big sign stating: "Teens Only. No Adults."). Fear not, worried parents: There is always a youth staff member inside to keep an eye on things. However, the staff remain more of a background presence, organizing competitions and making sure that nothing untoward takes place in the disco. Fuel consists of a DJ booth and a dance floor. The teen center is open each night until 2 a.m., and teens can come and go as they please.
The video arcade consists of the usual array of violent shoot-'em-ups and car chases, as well as Guitar Hero. It's $1.25 per game.
Royal has recognized that 18- to 20-year-olds (too old for teen clubs, too cool to hang out with boring old adults) may appreciate some age-specific activities. This is particularly useful on itineraries (such as Caribbean cruises) when they are unable to consume alcohol onboard. Activities might include a meet-and-greet in Blaze on the first night, volleyball in the Sports Pool, a Nintendo Wii competition, a Flow Rider session, karaoke and a Glow Party. Events are announced in the daily Cruise Compass newsletter.