Hot cakes would have been appropriate term for the remaining stocks of sledges flying off the shelves at my local hardware shop.
Yes, they were selling like the proverbial to those of us unprepared for the early winter cold snap with nagging children anxious to get out and romp in the plentiful white stuff which coated much of the country at the weekend.
For those of us trudging out into the freezing conditions early on Saturday morning in the hope of securing one of the dwindling pile of red plastic sledges, thoughts wandered quickly to warmer climes.
While the earliest heavy snow falls in 17 years to hit the UK, across the Atlantic in sunny Florida something distinctly more alluring was occurring.
The world’s media had descended on Fort Lauderdale for a preview of Royal Caribbean International’s $1.3 billion Allure of the Seas, holder of the title of the world’s largest cruise ship, just edging out sister vessel Oasis of the Seas.
For those who have sailed on P&O Cruises’ Ventura or Azura, which can accommodate more than 3,100 passengers, then think of a ship that carries more than double that number and that will give you some kind of perspective as to the enormity of Allure.
While Ventura and Azura together with similar Princess Cruises ships such as Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess weigh in at 115,000 tons, Allure comes in at 225,000 tons.
In layman’s terms, this is a nautical measurement of size rather than weight. So, Allure and Oasis stretch the equivalent length of more than 40 double decker buses, are taller than St Paul’s Cathedral and are as wide as a football pitch.
Bigger is best
So when I say BIG I actually mean ENORMOUS. These are true ground-breakers, building on the concept first introduced by Royal Caribbean with its Voyager-class and Freedom–class ships in 1999 and 2006 respectively.
I personally love 3,800-passenger Voyager of the Seas, having sailed on what at the time was a record-breaker in terms of size and excitement. The variety of bars, restaurants and ocean-going firsts such as an ice rink, rock climbing wall and now signature four-deck high Royal Promenade complete with inward-looking cabins, were truly impressive at the time and remain so to this day.
No other cruise line has managed to successfully replicate the experience of holidaying on such voluminous vessel.
With each step change in size from Voyager through to Freedom and finally up to Allure has come yet more on board innovation.
The three Freedom-class vessels – Freedom of the Seas and sisters Liberty of the Seas and Southampton-based Independence of the Seas – introduced a boxing ring, an expanded swimming pool area and H2O interactive water park in addition to capacity for 500 more passengers.
While it appears that Allure is going to be as big as it’s ever going to get in terms of cruise ship scale, the concept of a floating theme park-style resort has now become fully established in cruise line folklaw.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic has extended the concept with round the clock entertainment, while Disney Cruise Line is bringing out the first fully-fledged water-coaster at sea as part of new ship Disney Dream at the end of January.
Water slides will also be a big feature on 3,690-passenger Carnival Magic to be introduced in May with a maiden summer of fly-cruises in the Mediterranean from Barcelona.
Fun for first-time cruisers
Splashing out on such impressive hardware is all about keeping the idea of cruise holidays in the front of mind of prospective holidaymakers, the majority of whom have still to experience cruising.
But cruise lines have to make sure their ships depart full on every itinerary, and with the additional capacity added this year, that’s no mean feat.
That’s why even more imaginative marketing and promotional tools are being employed to lure landlubbers on board for the first time – the feeling being that once on board, ‘virgin’ cruisers will want to come back for more.
For example, Virgin Holidays Cruises has an exclusive offer combining a seven-night Caribbean voyage on board either Allure or Oasis of the Seas with a free week in Orlando to take in the full on US theme park experience.
As I pulled my six-year-old son Hal’s toboggan up a vertiginous Wiltshire hill, with him seemingly oblivious to the sub-zero temperatures but my ears blue with cold, I couldn’t help but hanker for a sun splashed alternative of this nature.
Hal would love the huge Flowrider surf simulators on board the massive new ship together with all his favourite DreamWorks characters and fabulous hot dogs on board, I thought to myself.
This time next year I’m going to suggest a mid-winter Allure alternative to towing a toboggan up and down the highest spot in the county in driving snow.
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