The Allure of the Seas is 1,187 feet long and weighs 225,000 tons. It has 2,742 staterooms, 24 guest elevators, an ice rink, six hot tubs, four swimming pools, a carousel, a casino, boutique shops where you can buy Coach purses and gold watches, a pickleball court, a mini-golf course, a surfing simulator, two rock climbing walls, a cocktail bar that moves up and down between floors, a running track (thank you, Jesus), 34 bars and restaurants, and a zip line. 

The hulking Royal Caribbean vessel, which can carry up to 6,780 passengers and 2,100 crew members, feels more like a floating city than anything else. It is the fifth-largest ship currently sailing on the planet and the biggest to ever depart from Texas, which it did last month with me, somewhat reluctantly, on board. I joined 3,500 or so passengers on the twelve-year-old ship’s inaugural cruise out of Texas. The trip was timed to promote the grand opening of Royal Caribbean’s luxurious new $125-million terminal in Galveston; a ribbon-cutting ceremony took place shortly before we set sail.

We departed on a Wednesday afternoon, motored all day Thursday, and spent about seven hours docked in Cozumel on Friday, where I snuck in two scuba dives, before the ship turned around and cruised back across the Gulf of Mexico. I’m sad to say I missed the belly flop competition and the disco party, but I did manage to take in an ice skating show that paid homage to the board game Monopoly, an excellent live performance of the musical Mamma Mia!, and a concert by country-pop singer Kelsea Ballerini, who gamely belted out songs on the outdoor stage as her thin gold mini dress rippled in the wind of the first strong cold front of the season. 

I’ll be frank. Cruising is not my thing. I’ve been on one other in my life, a decade ago, when an editor asked me to take the cheapest cruise out of Texas I could find. I wound up on a big (though not this big) ship operated by a different cruise company, chugging toward Mexico. At dinner the first night, I was seated near a young man wearing a T-shirt that read, “I may be quiet, but I have a big d—.” I ate “sushi” made with what tasted like canned tuna, and watched a dozen grown men compete in a “sexy legs” contest. Cruising, I believed, was like getting locked inside a shopping mall and pushed out to sea with thousands of strangers.

Still, when a Royal Caribbean publicist emailed me an invitation to join the Allure’s maiden voyage from Texas, I was curious. After all, ours is a state that prides itself on having the biggest of everything, and this ship holds up to our large standards—tasteless T-shirt statements notwithstanding. But how would someone who prefers backpacking, snow skiing, and river camping fare on a colossal cruise ship? 

I said yes.

Before I left, I downloaded David Foster Wallace’s hilarious essay, “Shipping Out: On the (Nearly Lethal) Comforts of a Luxury Cruise,” and picked up a copy of Austin novelist (and fellow reluctant cruiser) Amanda Eyre Ward’s book The Jetsetters. Then I packed my bag, vowing to keep an open mind.

Passengers stroll through Central Park, which has a lush garden and piped-in birdsong. Pam LeBlanc
Catching rays on the deck. Pam LeBlanc

On November 9, my husband and I drove to Galveston. Inside the sleek new terminal, we were asked if we had any COVID symptoms—we did not and we’re vaccinated, but that’s not required—and we showed our passports. Someone handed us complimentary straw cowboy hats, and fifteen minutes later we were walking up the gangplank, entering what I can only describe as a mash-up between the Mall of America, Disneyland, and Las Vegas.

Once we found our berth—on deck ten of the eighteen-deck ship—we watched an instructional safety briefing and checked the week’s schedule via an app on our phones. Then we climbed five flights of stairs (we could’ve taken an elevator, but figured the exercise would be good for us) to one of the upper decks, where someone was handing out tiny Texas flags. We leaned against the railing like passengers on The Love Boat and waved our proud colors while a fireboat sprayed a celebratory plume of water and we pulled away from Galveston. 

I’m a scuba diver, accustomed to staying on a small, live-aboard dive boat for a week at a time. The rooms on those boats are tiny and spartan, with pint-sized sinks and barely enough space for your gear. By comparison, our quarters on the Allure were palatial: a plush, queen-sized bed, couch, TV, dresser, coffee table, and balcony with table and chairs. Every night, someone folded our bath towels into a new shape, including, once, a bat hanging from the ceiling.

Over the next three and a half days, Room 10-548 served as our home base as we roamed the halls of the gargantuan ship and explored its seven “neighborhoods.” We soaked in hot tubs, boogie-boarded on the FlowRider surf machine, and rode the carousel. I trotted exactly 7.2 times around the onboard running track to get in a three-mile workout. I loved glancing out at the water as I ran, and chuckled at the little rhymes, written in a fun retro style reminiscent of Burma-Shave signs, on the overhead support beams: “One Lap to Go / or Maybe Three / Tonight’s Dessert / Can Be Guilt-Free.” All in all, the experience was weird, fascinating, fun—and totally not my thing.

For a lot of Texans, however, it is. After a shaky few years due to COVID, cruising is back—big time, said Tanner Callais, founder of, a website and YouTube channel that covers all things cruising. Callais describes the Texas debut of this new-to-Texas cruise ship as significant. Already, he notes, Galveston has become the fourth-busiest cruise port in the country. “Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships are the largest cruise ships on the planet, and Galveston is getting one of those,” Callais said. “That speaks to the growth of cruising in Texas. What started two decades ago as a part-time, seasonal thing has continued to grow. All the major cruise lines are starting to come to Texas.”

And it’s not just fancy ships that are luring travelers to Galveston. Our cruise was the first to depart from Royal Caribbean’s new terminal, touted as the world’s first zero-energy cruise terminal. According to company officials, it generates 100 percent of its energy through 30,000 square feet of onsite solar panels. The facility uses mobile check-in and facial recognition to speed passengers through boarding and disembarking. It’s also more stylish, better designed, and more comfortable than Galveston’s other terminals, which can feel more like large warehouses than jumping-off points for vacations. “It makes a nicer first impression when you arrive,” Callais said.

Even so, the idea of cruising still made me a little squeamish, in no small part because I’d heard a lot about the environmental impact of cruise ships. I met with the ship’s onboard environmental officer, Barbara Ganzarolli, who gave me a tour that started in the vast waste management room. There, crew members sort paper, aluminum cans, dry garbage, food waste, and green, clear, and amber glass into bins. Glass crushers, can compactors, a cardboard bailer, incinerators, and a food waste pulper whirred away, gobbling up what the ship’s village discards. Royal Caribbean is aiming for zero landfill waste; right now, 87 percent is diverted from landfills. (By comparison, at the end of 2021, the diversion rate for the city of Austin was about 42 percent.)

From the waste management room, we walked down a busy, staff-only corridor nicknamed Interstate 95, past a pallet stacked high with boxes labeled “Lobster” and a rolling parade of bins filled with supplies. Eventually we reached the engine control room, which looked like the bridge of the starship Enterprise, complete with banks of blinking computers, buttons, switches, and screens streaming live video. There, chief engineer Martin Atanasov described the ship’s six engines and three azipods, which are huge electric motors that swivel and allow the vessel to change direction on a dime. He said that the company has installed scrubbers, each the size of a school bus, on its engines to remove 98 percent of the sulfur emissions the engines produce. 

“We’re on our way to decarbonize,” Atanasov said. “We have a goal and a path to get there. In the interim we do everything we can to have the most efficient ship we can.”

As for sewage, the ship’s advanced wastewater purification system treats a mind-boggling 530,983 gallons per day. Black water is screened, run through three bioreactors, and purified. The end result, according to company officials, is potable water.

After I emerged from the bowels of the ship, I spent a lot of time just roaming hallways and exploring the vast vessel’s nooks and crannies. On the Boardwalk, I stared at my reflection in funhouse mirrors. In Central Park, I watched a gardener carefully clip the browned tips from tropical plants and listened to the piped-in sounds of birds chirping. I tried to catch a high-diving show, but it was postponed because the ship’s rocking was sloshing the water in the diving pits too much.

“Where this ship goes doesn’t matter,” Ken Rush, the Allure’s director of entertainment, told me. “This ship is the destination.” 

One day I met cruise aficionados Linda and Dave Scott relaxing in lounge chairs on an upper deck. The Plano couple, both in their early eighties, wore matching navy, yellow, and white T-shirts emblazoned with the message “Cruising Through Life One Port at a Time.” This trip, they said, marked their sixty-second cruise. After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, they were so excited to get back to cruising that they booked six cruises this year.

“It’s nice to put your suitcase in your room and not pack and unpack it,” said Linda, a retired teacher who now works as a travel agent. She was wearing matching earrings and held a bedazzled, cruise ship themed purse. “There’s good food and all-inclusive entertainment.”

When they were younger, her husband explained, they signed up for adventurous activities at each port, like horseback riding and zip-lining. “That has no appeal now,” he said. They’d rather read on deck, attend themed parties, and watch passersby. Linda showed me an 8-by-10 glossy photo of themselves wearing coordinated black-and-white polyester outfits at the seventies dance party the previous night. 

I’ve talked to others who love cruising, and I can understand the appeal. “I like the relaxation,” one friend told me. Others say it’s perfect for multigenerational travel. And it can be tantalizingly affordable: an online search this week turned up a four-night cruise on the Allure starting at just $212 per person. 

Still, I’m not sure the cruising life is for me. Until I feel the lure of a seventies disco party, a massage/facial combo, a great Broadway musical, and a high-diving act while sipping a neon-colored drink, all under the same roof, I’ll take my backpack and tent and head to the wilderness, where the bird sounds are real and the water flows in streams, not pipes.