herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

Barbie girls in a Barbie world

Bestselling author Michelle Jackson brings mum and daughter on a Caribbean cruise with a difference

I REMEMBER clearly my grandmother's return from her cruise of the Mediterranean in 1974. I was only a child at the time but the excitement in her voice as she relayed details of the lavish dinners and exciting ports-of-call left me enthralled and hoping that one day I too would be able to experience something like it.

I had to wait 40 years but the timing couldn't have been better for a number of reasons. My mother was about to celebrate a rather big birthday and we wanted to do something really special for it.

So when I asked her if she would like to go on a Royal Caribbean Cruise with my daughter her eyes filled up – all our eyes did. My eight-year-old daughter Nicole jumped up and down with excitement at the prospect of getting Mum and Granny all to herself for a whole week on the biggest cruise ship in the world.

We departed from Fort Lauderdale in Florida on a Sunday with a warm breeze brushing our cheeks as the land in the distant grew smaller and smaller. By the time we reached Miami the sun was a large red disc disappearing from the sky.

Our cabins were luxurious and if it wasn't for the unspoilt view of the Caribbean from our balcony we'd never have known that we were on water as the ship didn't give any hint of motion. Nicole's bed was decked out with an array of Barbie paraphernalia including pillowcase, blanket, beachbag, special Barbie pass and of course the doll herself wearing a sailor suit.

Royal Caribbean have introduced a Barbie package for girls which guests can add on to their itinerary for $349. It includes a host of activities that will keep any little girl from three to 11 in her Barbie world for the duration of her time on the water.

Most of the Barbie action happened in the Adventure Ocean kids club and with Nicole busily designing a dress for her Barbie doll, Granny decided to head to the lounge to play bridge. I had to be content with a couple of hours in the spa which wasn't exactly a hardship.

Our ship, The Allure of the Sea, is the biggest in the Royal Caribbean International fleet and the most luxurious. The scale is difficult to comprehend as it is broken up into so many different sections and levels. I counted 20 pools and whirlpools, two flow riders for surfers and a lazy river for the kids. But it's not just water sport that's taken care of adequately – two rock climbing walls, a zipline and an ice-rink caters for the teens and adventurous passengers. Theatres abound with classic shows like Chicago.

Our first port was Labadee in Haiti which caters for all kids young and old. An array of entertainment was on offer and our favourite was the rollercoaster which had the most spectacular view of the cruise ship resting on crystal turquoise water with lush greenery tapering down the mountainside. A waterpark and waterslides added to the action while granny sat in the shade of  palm trees and sipped a cocktail.

After spending the day on the beach we returned to the ship at four bells because Nicole had cup cake decoration class which was a delight for us adults to watch – we helped to eat the spoils too. We chose to have dinner most evenings at our table in the Adagio restaurant where we got to know our waiters well over the course of the week. Felicia called us by name and even knew what drinks to have ready for us.

The next day we were busy with another port-of-call, this time to Jamaica and we learned to say ‘Yi mon' with a Jamaican accent. It was educational too – Nicole had her first trip on a tractor and cart as we visited a real plantation and got to see how pineapples, bananas and cocoa beans grow.

But back on board it was time to be dazzled once again – a ride on the hand carved carousel or a drink at the Rising Tide Bar which intermittently stopped on deck six and eight. A dance class was included in the package and it was an important part of the Barbie Fashion Show in which Nicole modelled with her new friend from Australia.

Entertainment and childcare was on offer for children in the adventure dome facilities until 2am so parents could have a complete break – or in our case  a little flutter in the casino.

Our final port was Cozumel, Mexico, and this was where granny and granddaughter lost the run of themselves shopping in the local markets. We enjoyed our final breakfast with the characters from the Dreamworks movies and Nicole got to hug Kung Foo Panda and her favourite Penguin. The sense of inclusion of all ages is something special that cruising offers and a wonderful opportunity for everyone to have the sort of holiday that fits each of them.

I wondered what Granny would have thought of our colossus of the waves – maybe she had sent us here from beyond the grave. It had always been her wish to cruise again before she died and I like to think that while we dined in style and marvelled at the entertainment she was at our sides and smiling.

 

Michelle Jackson is the author of six bestselling novels, all set in exotic locations - for more details see www.michellejackson.ie

FACTFILE:

Cruise from €1,659pp (based on two sharing an Interior stateroom).   Includes flights from Dublin, transfers, a night pre-sailing hotel  in Fort Lauderdale, a seven-night cruise, meals and entertainment onboard and all relevant cruise taxes/fees.  For more info, you can talk to one of the new specially-trained  ‘Royal Mums or Dads' for advice about family holidays on 1800 937 631, see www.royalcaribbean.ie, or talk to your travel agent.

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