The 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas is the world's largest cruise ship -- by five centimeters. (5,400 is double occupancy -- the full load is 6,360.) 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, which divides the ship into seven distinct spaces that range from the foliage-filled Central Park to the Boardwalk, with its handmade wooden carousel, burger joint and candy shop. Like its sister, Allure also boasts the best kids program in cruising.
But "sister ship" doesn't mean "carbon copy," and there's little that's ho-hum about this second of two groundbreaking Oasis-class ships. Scattered throughout the mass of steel, glass, wood and trees are variations that inform Allure's unique personality, including new retail options (a Guess store), dining venues (a hot dog stand), shows ("Chicago") and a recognizable green ogre, donkey and penguins culled from the DreamWorks stable. The line has also added 3D viewing capabilities to its movie offerings, iPod docks in every cabin and guest kiosks from which you can print boarding passes and keep tabs on escalating onboard bills.
Here's a quick snapshot of what's unique to Allure:
New Eats, Part One.
The Boardwalk Dog House
, a fee-free dining venue not found on Oasis, serves up a variety of sausages, wieners and brats with your choice of toppings (but no spicy mustard -- tsk, tsk). The venue replaced what's now the donut shop on Oasis, which was moved next to Allure's ice cream parlor.
New Eats, Part Two.
Allure introduced Rita's Cantina
, an ersatz Mexi-Cali beach bar with menu options like taco salad, chile rellenos, shrimp ceviche tostadas, fajitas, chips and guacamole and a wide selection of tequilas and margaritas. There is a $3 up-front cost, which the line says covers the service. Then pricing for each item is a la carte. (Chips and salsa are free.)
Allure debuted "Chicago,"
the second Broadway production offered by Royal Caribbean. (Oasis was the first with "Hairspray," and Liberty of the Seas has since added "Saturday Night Fever.") A big-budget Cirque du Soleil-style extravaganza called "Blue Planet" also made its stage debut. New to the outdoor AquaTheater is "OceanAria," a show about an ancient race of sea people who tell their story through high-diving, trampolining and sometimes painful-looking displays of strength -- think human pretzels.
Following the success of Oasis' Coach store, Allure introduced the first Guess
boutique at sea, which sells the company's designer handbags, watches, shoes, jewelry and sunglasses. Allure also debuted the first Romero Britto
art store at sea, which, in addition to prints and paintings, sells luggage, key chains and umbrellas with the artist's colorful pop-art designs.
Allure's Royal Promenade features the first Starbucks
on a cruise ship, featuring the standard coffee menu found onshore with a la carte pricing. Oasis has since added a Starbucks.
Borrowing a concept introduced by Costa Cruises ("Totems") and Carnival Cruise Lines ("FunHubs"), Allure of the Seas debuted special guest kiosks
in the Royal Promenade. Complimentary services include the ability to view, print or e-mail passenger folios (your bill) and guest calendars; review spa appointments, alternative dining reservations and entertainment schedules; and to print out airline boarding passes.
The main theater on Allure of the Seas is equipped to handle 3D movies, many of which are first-run DreamWorks films
. (Oasis of the Seas has since been three-dimensionalized.)
In-Cabin iPod Docks.
All cabins on Allure of the Seas feature iPod docking stations
While Allure certainly has enough distinctions to differentiate it from Oasis, there's one point where the sisters couldn't be more alike: They could easily be the most expensive mainstream ships in the world -- if you let them. Allure and Oasis are so flooded with bill-busting offerings -- ice cream, extra-charge Mexican food, build-your-own pets, Coach bags, fortunes from Zoltar -- that it's easy to forget about the inclusions, 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.
Families flock to Allure of the Seas, a ship that celebrates youthful exuberance in the form of surf simulators, rock-climbing walls and some of the best children's facilities at sea. But the ship also clearly appeals to active couples, mainly in their 30's to 50's. Numerous spaces, especially the foliage-filled Central Park, provide a relatively kid-free ambience. The majority of passengers hail from the United States, but given the Oasis-class ships' worldwide reputation, you'll also sail with plenty of passengers from the United Kingdom and Europe.
Weeklong cruises consist of two formal nights and five casual nights. Many men choose to wear tuxedos for formal dining, though dark suits are more common. Women are typically found in cocktail dresses or gowns.
Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite guests). Gratuities can be prepaid or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.