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When Barbie met Ken – Royal Caribbean Cruises

I watched my sweet little girl bat her eyelids and flick her hair as she curled up next to the boy in the back of a convertible. A massive change had swept over her since we boarded the ship. The boy giggled and asked if she’d like to join him for a milk shake in Johnny Rockets on the boardwalk…

The love affair had started two days earlier as I hung onto the railings of The Allure of the Sea as we pulled out of Fort Lauderdale. This was my first Royal Caribbean Cruise and a wonderful opportunity for bonding with my daughter Nicole. But when I turned around my eight-year-old wasn’t looking at the land receding into the distance – she had spotted a handsome young ten-year-old from London called Angus. Our love affair with cruising had begun.

The two love birds sat on the deckchairs swapping stories about school and their favourite music – I felt like an intruder until Angus’ mother came to my rescue. “We are on the Barbie Experience,” I informed her. For an extra $349 my little girl was going to live the dream and be like Barbie for the duration of our week on the high seas. I told her about the picture of Barbie that hung on our cabin door. When we opened it our bed was decked out with a Barbie pillowcase, blanket and doll, plus an array of goodies. I’d already taken ownership of the Barbie beach bag – I wanted to be a Barbie girl too.

“It looks like she’s found Ken!” Angus’ mother said affectionately, pointing over to our children. His mum and I found plenty in common – not least the fabulous Margaritas served all day long in Rita’s Cantina on the boardwalk. It’s difficult to imagine the scale of the ship but the boardwalk is like a street in a resort kitted out with an aqua theatre, climbing wall, full size carousel and host of eateries shops and bars – and that is just the aft of the ship. To the front there is an open area called Central Park with real plants and trees, classy shops and restaurants – a walk around it under the stars completed more than one evening.

It’s great having an eight-year-old with you on the ship because they can show you how to use the interactive maps that help get your bearings. They can also look up the message service and all the information on the TV in the cabin. A leaflet called the Compass arrived in the room every evening telling of the activities and excursions planned for the following day – brimmed with classes, shows and more action than a body could do.

Equipped with our cards which were our cash, keys and identification all-in-one for the week we found our way to Deck 4 where we met other little girls on the Barbie experience. Our first event was the Barbie Cupcakes and Tiaras Tea Party. The girls were invited to bring their mum or dad to the party to drink pink lemonade and eat cupcakes. My Barbie girl decided to ditch the doll and her mum and instead bring her new friend Angus. All the other girls had brought their Barbie dolls and my girl had Ken. He seemed pleased enough to attend and with the promise of a visit to the H20 water park on Deck 15 later they stayed around for most of it.

There are four pools on the ship and I lost count of the whirlpools – some allocated for teens, some for kids and of course there were the adult exclusive tubs in the solarium. Ken decided to show off and my Barbie girl watched with awe as he tried his hand at surfing on one of the two Flow-riders at the back of the ship – nicely placed beside a bar where I enjoyed a cocktail-of-the-day with Ken’s mum as the sun set over the horizon and the warm breeze kissed our cheeks.

Giddy with excitement and still only on our second day we had dinner together in the Adagio restaurant which could have been a grand dining room in a five star hotel and the menu reflected the same. Our heads hit the pillows early as we had a port of call next day.

We woke with the view of a tropical paradise from our balcony. The island of Labadee and warm turquoise waters beckoned. It was a short ferry ride from the dock to the water park at the far end of the beach but you could walk through the small purpose-built village where the locals sold art and crafts. Nicole bought hand painted shells for everyone in her class and a painting for her teacher. The day went too quickly as we met up with Ken. His mum and I watched them go up and down the water slide a hundred times followed by the fabulous Dragon Ride with self controlling accelerator and brakes. The view from the top of the coaster is breathtaking and there’s an option to take a ride on the Dragon’s Breath one of the longest zip-lines I’ve ever seen and not for the fainthearted. The crew laid on a barbeque on the beach which we didn’t get a chance to sample, too busy chasing Barbie and Ken from the slide to waterpark and back. We reluctantly boarded the ship at four o’clock because we had to go to the Barbie Fashion Design Workshop. But with Ken waiting in the wings my Barbie made her dress for her doll in super quick time and then hit the arcades for a couple of hours before dinner.

All this activity was held in Adventure Ocean which also offers kids clubs from 9am to 2am every day – the facilities were superb and kids could come and go as they pleased. Kiddies films, science, art and puppet shows are on the itinerary in Adventure Ocean. A Dreamworks channel on the TV in the cabin ensured constant entertainment. We saw Madagascar, Kung Foo Panda, How to Train your Dragon over the course of the week but on this night we watched the live show of How to Train your Dragon at the ice-rink on deck four before going to bed.

When we docked in Jamaica the next day unfortunately Angus was getting off the ship and returning home. I was concerned how my Barbie was going to take it – they had after all had their own private lunch in Johnny Rockets and been to the Aqua show and so much else together. However, I needn’t have worried because Anna from Canada came to the rescue and the two Barbie girls became best buddies on the bus as we made our way to the Brimmer Hall Plantation. Set to the east of the island we got to see pineapples, bananas and cocoa beans growing. Our guide had worked on the plantation since he was ten and he cut open the beans and showed Nicole how they grew. We were getting an education as well as Barbie!

Next stop was the famous Dunn’s River Falls and with Anna and her mum in tow we set off holding hands up the charging waterfalls. The girls were exhilarated by the hike as we waded waist high in the bubbling waters. We felt proud of our achievement when we reached the top but had our guide to thank for his navigation skills through the rapids.

We had lost track of time and I was afraid Captain Johnny and his crew would go without us but our guide assured us there’s, ‘No problem in Jamaica – yi mon you got to take it easy’. But we had to run through the port as Bob Marley’s iconic song ‘Don’t Worry’ played in the background. That’s all very well but we were busy Barbie girls and cup cake decoration was in half an hour. Nicole made a beautiful lion cupcake and Barbie girls as young as four were doing a wonderful job.

As the next day was at sea we decided to hit the spa because my Barbie needed cheering up – it had dawned on her that Ken wasn’t coming back and she kept asking if he was in London yet. Nicole had her hair blow dried by Edwin and I got the best pedicure ever from the lovely Trisha from Jamaica. ‘Yi mon it’s great working on the ship.’ She said. She had docked in Cork once and loved Penneys. I promised to send her something when I got home. ‘Yi mon I’d love a paper bag from Penneys – that’s the best shop ever.’ She made me smile.

We decided to try somewhere different for dinner after the Mermaid Dance Class that afternoon and went to the very plush Izumi restaurant which specialises in Asian cuisine. Our waiter Roderick was charming and not only gave us a lesson in how to eat with chopsticks but presented a key ring to Nicole from his native Philippines. He suggested the hot stone steak and Nicole ate every bit of the delicious finely cut beef that she’d proudly cooked herself. She may have been lovesick but at least her appetite was in tact. To finish off the evening we met up with some Barbie girls down on the boardwalk while the parents enjoyed a glass of wine under the stars.

We hit a few waves that night but it didn’t affect the motion of the ship. The glorious sunshine was left behind when we docked in Mexico but it was still warm and so was our mood. We were sent a photo of a gloomy Angus back in London by his mum and although my Barbie paused sadly for a moment the choice of excursions made her smile. We opted for the beach – Playa Mia accommodates families with a host of water activities. Nicole and the other Barbie’s turned into little mermaids and Anna from Canada, Tia and Marina from London played for hours in the waterpark while the adults sat in hammocks and irresponsibly drank Margaritas but when in Mexico it has to be done. Later that evening we watched the brilliant production of Blue Planet which, like the aqua show Oceanaria we’d seen earlier in the week, was as impressive as the Cirque de Soliel shows in Vegas. “Angus was with us at the last show!” Nicole said sadly and she nodded off to sleep before the curtain fell.

We decided to have breakfast with the Dreamworks characters on our last full day to cheer ourselves up. The Barbie girls were there too and full of excitement for the special Barbie Fashion Show to be held later in the ships nightclub Dazzles. After much practice the girls strutted their stuff with such confidence that I pitied their teachers when they returned to school and reality.

We had dinner with all our new friends on the last night and swapped numbers and details and swore to meet again another time. Those that hadn’t cruised before were converted – Nicole and I included. And when we arrived home to Dublin a postcard was waiting in the letter box from a certain blue-eyed, blonde-haired boy who signed his card Ken! For a holiday to tick all the boxes for Barbie girls and their mums this trip did the job.

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Michelle Jackson is the Irish author of six bestselling novels set in exotic locations. Her best known titles include One Kiss in Havana, Three Nights in New York and 4am in Las Vegas. She is a travel writer for a variety of Irish national newspapers including the Irish Mail on Sunday and the Sunday World. Sometimes she pops up in TV as a panelist on the Irish lifestyle program Midday on TV3.

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