A Barbie Girl, on a Barbie Ship

Published by MSN

Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas takes children’s experiences on cruise ships into unchartered waters, writes Steve Clarkson

There’s a lot about the world’s largest and most innovative cruise ship that knocks 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, 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 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 – blanket, handbag, pillowcase, toothbrush, toiletries and, of course, several dolls and a swathe of fashionable outfits.

Would anyone judge me if I take these home to wrap for this year’s Christmas presents? was my first thought – and in the minutes that passed as I unpacked our suitcases, I mentally allocated each complimentary item to various little people in my family. However, Jessica’s fixation on one of the Barbies suggested she 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, clearly assuming I was her father, offered a knowing smirk.

I saw him again a few minutes later at the event, where I felt the need to explain myself. “Oh, you don’t have kids of your own?” he responded, helping his five-year-old daughter Eva pour herself some pink lemonade from a dainty china teapot. “That’s too bad, this place is perfect for them.” Seeing Eva, Jessica and the other girls forge some early friendships while being served a selection of French pastries went some way to illustrating his point.

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 catalogue of events available for kids.

It’s not just about Barbie, either. For little ones too old, too young, or too indifferent to plastic dolls, there’s a host of excitement on offer at Adventure Ocean – a fully staffed state-of-the-art activity and education programme for children of all ages. For six-month to three-year-olds, there are brand new toys. For three to five-year-olds, puppet shows. Six to eight-year-olds can enjoy hanging out with DreamWorks characters like Princess Fiona and King Julian, while nine to 11-year-olds might find themselves occupied with talent contests and the latest video games.

Adventure Ocean is more than just a child drop-off facility – it’s tailored to whatever interests your young ones could possibly have. Children are also given an enriching opportunity to make friends with others their age from potentially 50 different countries – indeed, one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen was Jessica and her Canadian friend Lizzy 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 ‘til the early hours, Adventure Ocean gives them a break from their parents, and parents a break from them, at almost any time of day or night.

Even with temperatures in the high thirties, children don’t really do sunbathing. So, as Jessica was involved in rehearsals for a play called Pirates, I lay baking in the Caribbean heat – wetting and turning the pages of my holiday book, not with my own saliva or perspiration, but with the condensation from the outside of a slender glass of a crushed-ice cocktail I bought from the poolside bar. Simultaneously, Molly was having a facial at the excellent spa facilities. Everyone was a winner that afternoon.

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