Image: Alex the lion from Madagascar
Royal Caribbean
The Move On! Move On! Parade on the Royal Promenade features characters from DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar."
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 12/3/2010 9:41:21 AM ET 2010-12-03T14:41:21

There’s nothing like a sail-away party to give you a good sense of a cruise ship. The rhythmic beat of reggae music. The whirring blenders and rainbow-colored cocktails. The head-scratching sight of a six-foot-tall lemur, seven-foot lion and 30-odd passengers doing the zombie dance from “Thriller.”

The lemur and lion, in this case, turned out to be King Julien and Alex from the “Madagascar” movies, just two of the 20-odd DreamWorks Animation characters that have taken up residence on Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Allure of the Seas. In fact, even though Adam Sandler and Katie Holmes were on board filming a movie during a series of preview cruises in mid-November, it was the furry ones and their friends who stole the show.

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Sister act
At first glance, Allure is the spitting image of its twin, Oasis of the Seas, which launched last December. With 16 passenger decks, gross tonnages of around 225,000 tons and beds for 5,400 guests based on double occupancy (6,300 with all beds filled), the two share the title of world’s largest cruise ship.

Story: On board the world’s biggest cruise ship

But according to Allure’s captain, Hernan Zini, Allure is actually 50 millimeters (about two inches) longer than Oasis due to incremental differences in hundreds of welds in the hull. Oasis, on the other hand, is 200 tons “heavier” than Allure. (Gross tonnage, the official standard for ship size, is actually a measure of volume, not weight.)

Ultimately, such differences are insignificant, although that hasn’t stopped Zini from engaging in a little intra-fleet teasing. “Let’s look at the facts,” he recently told the Norwegian newspaper VG. “You have two sisters. You know that one is older, shorter and heavier than the other. Which would you choose?”

Déjà new
Although Allure and Oasis share the same basic layout — seven “neighborhoods,” including the plant-filled Central Park and seaside pier-inspired Boardwalk — it doesn’t take a maritime engineer to see the differences. Step into the galleria-like Royal Promenade and one of the first things you see is a testament to the power of branding and promotional partnering: the first Starbucks on a cruise ship. Even with just 2,900 passengers onboard — and free Seattle’s Best Coffee nearby — it often drew a crowd.

Story: First Starbucks at sea steams into Florida port

Other onboard firsts include a Guess accessories store, a gallery featuring the works of contemporary Pop artist Romero Britto and, in the biggest cross-merchandising effort since a certain mouse went to sea, a partnership with DreamWorks Animation. “We’ve always looked for opportunities for our fans to interact with our characters in other ways,” said DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was also onboard recently. “It’s worked for that other D company.”

On Allure, such interaction will be almost inescapable: A “Madagascar”-themed aquatic show, complete with high divers, synchronized swimmers and penguins. A “How to Train Your Dragon” ice show with Hiccup, Toothless and Olympic-caliber skaters. Photo ops, character breakfasts and two parades per cruise with 90 participants, including Shrek, Po the panda, Gloria the hippo and more than a dozen of their pals.

“It’s really quite brilliant,” said Joanne Howarth, of Suffolk, England, after doing the Electric Slide with Alex, King Julien, her two young children and several other passengers. “These characters are much more relevant to our kids than Snow White.”

Broadway shows and 3-D movies
In fact, remaining relevant appears to drive much of what Royal Caribbean is trying to accomplish with Allure. “They’ve taken a page from the playbook of Las Vegas,” said Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager for CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. “No one needs to see another second-rate Broadway revue.”

That, no doubt, explains the onboard productions of “Chicago: The Musical” — the show’s slightly abridged, but features top-notch performers from Broadway and London’s West End — and the regular showings of “Megamind” in the ship’s 3-D theater. It’s hardly surprising that the latter is a DreamWorks film, but it’s telling that the movie is also still playing in theaters.

“One of the challenges we have is changing guests’ expectations about cruising,” said Peter Compton, Royal Caribbean’s vice president of entertainment. “It isn’t all about food, bingo and people too old to get out of their cabins.”

Small problems, big potential
The real test, of course, will come Dec. 5, when Allure embarks on its inaugural voyage. There were definitely glitches during the first preview cruise, including a corrupted computer code that prevented hundreds of passengers from accessing their cabins and waits of up to two hours to get into the Rita’s Cantina restaurant on the Boardwalk. Fortunately, the former was resolved fairly quickly, while the latter may become less of an issue when Rita’s starts assessing a $7.95 surcharge.

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Even then, the ship clearly won’t appeal to every type of cruiser. “I have an increasing number of people who don’t want the big ships,” said Jay Caulk, general manager of The Travel Experts in Pompano Beach, Fla. “Standing in lines for buffets, shows, this and that — it’s just too much for some people.”

For others who may want more options than they can possibly experience in a week and who don’t mind sharing their vacation with penguins, Vikings, a big green ogre and 5,400 or more other passengers, Allure will likely prove exceedingly popular. Take it from Billy Flynn, the male lead in “Chicago,” who belts it out several times each cruise: Razzle dazzle ‘em, and they’ll make you a star!

Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com. If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, drop him an e-mail .

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Video: Royal Caribbean’s ‘alluring’ fare

Photos: Allure of the Seas

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  1. World's biggest ship

    The Allure of the Seas sets sail from Turku, Finland, for Florida on Oct. 29, 2010. Royal Caribbean's brand new ship will be the largest in the world, barely edging out her sister, Oasis of the Seas. (Lehtikuva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. First Starbucks at sea

    The Allure of the Seas features the first Starbucks on a cruise ship. (Royal Caribbean) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Onboard entertainment

    The Move On! Move On! Parade on the Royal Promenade features characters from DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar." (Royal Caribbean) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A floating city

    Allure of the Seas has 16 passenger decks, 2,700 cabins, and can accommodate 6,300 passengers and 3,000 crewmembers. (Markku Ulander / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Carousel at sea

    A carousel can be found on the Boardwalk aboard the Allure of the Seas. (Royal Caribbean) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Recreation

    The outdoor play area aboard Allure of the Seas includes a multifunctional court which can host games of basketball, volleyball and badminton. (Lehtikuva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Behemoth

    The gigantic vessel is the sister ship of the Oasis of the Seas, which Royal Caribbean has been running since its delivery in December 2009. Like Oasis, Allure of the Seas cost the cruise line about $1.5 billion. (Lehtikuva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 'Something for everyone'

    "There's something for everyone to discover on the grandest ships the world has ever seen," Royal Caribbean boasts on its website. (Lehtikuva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Entertaining options

    Allure of the Seas features an ice rink and entertainment including the Broadway musical "Chicago" and the aerial acrobatic show "Blue Planet." (Royal Caribbean) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Just desserts

    There's no shortage of sweet treats aboard the Allure of the Seas, which has an onboard cupcake shop, ice cream parlor and doughnut shop. (Royal Caribbean) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A thrilling ride

    The Allure of the Seas features a zipline that soars across an open-air atrium. (Rob Lovitt) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. One big ship

    The Allure of the Seas measures nearly 1,200 feet long, towers 236 feet above the waterline and weighs 225,282 tons — 12 times more than the Eiffel Tower. (Roni Lehti / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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