Barbie on board

I keep finding specks of glitter on my pillow. That’s the first hint that the Royal Caribbean cruise I’m on comes with added sparkle – courtesy of the world’s most well known fashion doll, Barbie.

The all-new Barbie™ Premium Experience is an optional extra on select Royal Caribbean ships, rolling out to the entire global fleet by March. I’ve taken the Barbie plunge with my 3-year-old, on a seven night tour of the Western Caribbean on the largest ship of the fleet, the Allure of the Seas.

It all starts with a Barbie plaque on the door. Inside is a sea of pink, from the bed with its Barbie blanket and pillowcase, to a brand new Barbie Doll and fashions. There’s also a tote bag, toothbrush and toiletries set. My daughter, who I haven’t told about the special surprises, is beside herself with excitement.

Cruise with a view ...
Cruise with a view ... 

“Is this all for me?” she asks incredulously. “I love you mummy!” If it sounds like a Hallmark moment, that’s because it is.

Mummy is toast however, the moment she meets the other Barbie girls on board the ship. It’s fair to say that the doll is a cultural icon, and kids from around the world speak her language. Our own little group includes guests from Great Britain, Europe, the US and Central and South America.

Over the week, our tight-knit group enjoys a range of Barbie experiences, from the exclusive activities as part of the Premium Experience, to complimentary Barbie features on board the ship such as Barbie Movie Night, Barbie Story Time and other themed activities available via the award-winning Adventure Ocean Youth Program. Staff from Adventure Ocean run the Barbie activities in between shifts in the child-minding facilities on board, so the girls become very familiar and comfortable in their presence.

We kick off the program with an invitation-only tea party, served in the flash surrounds of the main dining room, with real china, glassware,  pink ‘tea’ and a focus on table etiquette (a challenging experience for the younger children in the group).

Next, we attend a fashion design workshop using design kits from the existing Barbie range. Barbie has long been the muse for many a budding stylist, who have cut off her hair or moulded scraps of fabric into doll-sized evening gowns. In the design workshop, the girls learn a little about the importance of sketching a design, before using markers, stencils and stick on frou-frou to create a new dress for their own doll. I’m surprised that my three-year-old not only pays attention for the entirety of the class, but creates something to be proud of.

Day 5 brings a ‘Mermaid dance class’, where staff from the Adventure Ocean program teach the girls a special routine to perform at the Barbie Fashion show two days later, based on dance moves from the movie Barbie™ in a Mermaid Tale 2.

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The experience culminates on Day 7, with a fashion show where girls dress up to walk a pink carpet in front of family and friends. It’s not quite Toddlers in Tiaras – there’s a focus on individuality and fun, with nary a glue-on eyelash. The girls also have a chance to perform their Mermaid dance routine as well as display their Barbie fashion creation. The girls seem proud of their achievements over the week, and their enthusiasm is contagious.

When not hanging out with Barbie and co, my pint-sized cabin mate enjoyed rides on the Coney Island-style carousel, located on the Boardwalk, and keeping cool in the H20 Splash zone water play area. When I needed  a break from solo holiday-parenting the Adventure Ocean Aquanaut room (for 3 to 5-year-olds and staffed by fantastic carers) was a safe and fun option. In fact, she begged to stay at the end of each play session!

I made the most of my me-time by hitting the ship boutiques and trying out the cantilevered spas on either side of the fore end of the ship, or just by relaxing on our ocean-view balcony and watching the Carribean roll by.

Barbie loot waiting in our cabin for our arrival.
Barbie loot waiting in our cabin for our arrival. 

There are three shore stops on this cruise route - the private beach reserve of Labadee in Haiti, the Jamaican port of Falmouth and the island of Cozumel in Mexico. There are dozens of excursion options at each of these shore stops but the most memorable for us was a dolphin encounter at Chankanaab National Park in Cozumel. Watching my daughter shake hands and rub noses with a trained dolphin was truly unforgettable. I also felt reassured that the money spent on handicrafts and attractions in Labadee contributed to the struggling economy of Haiti. It's a beautiful and culturally rich country which has been through so much. Tourism is one way for the world to help out. In fact, I'd love to return.

Royal Caribbean say that the Barbie Premium Experience is about meeting new friends and making lifelong memories. By the end of the last night on the cruise, as we tearfully farewell our travelling companions, we can’t help but feel that the mission has been accomplished.

The Barbie Premium experience won’t be for everyone – you’ll need a high tolerance for pink for starters – but it’s the icing on the cake of a fantastic family cruise holiday.

My three-year-old having an intimate encounter with a trained dolphin in Cozumel.
My three-year-old having an intimate encounter with a trained dolphin in Cozumel. 

For more about cruising on the Allure of the Seas, read this review and check out the awe-inspiring photo gallery.

The Barbie Premium package is priced at $US349 per child, on top of the cost of your stateroom. For more details see Royal Caribbean.

Disclosure: The writer and her family travelled courtesy of Royal Caribbean.