Dreamworks' Madagascar characters on Royal Caribbean

The lion from the Dreamworks film 'Madagascar' is among the characters seen aboard Royal Caribbean cruises. (Royal Caribbean)

They are identical twins, and as is so often the case, you may have to ask their parents how to tell them apart.

Oasis of the Seas has the Seafood Shack; Allure of the Seas has Rita's Cantina. Allure features performances of Chicago: The Musical; Oasis has Hairspray. Allure's captain claims his ship is nearly two inches longer than Oasis, which for the last year has carried the banner of world's largest cruise ship. There are about half a dozen other differences, but on the scale of these massive ships, they are the equivalent of small birthmarks.

What really distinguishes Allure -- which will embark on its inaugural Caribbean cruise from Port Everglades Sunday evening -- is that it is the first ship to carry DreamWorks Animation characters including Shrek, Po from Kung-Fu Panda and Madagascar's penguins, positioning Royal Caribbean to compete more aggressively with Disney and Norwegian cruise lines for family business.

"We think this will appeal across the board to adults and children," said Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International.

Royal Caribbean has long promoted its ships as family-friendly, but putting DreamWorks characters in parades, shows and character breakfasts allows it to go head-to-head with Disney, which pioneered such activities, and Norwegian, which has Nickelodeon characters on two of its ships. Oasis and two other Royal Caribbean ships will get the DreamWorks characters between now and April, but the cruise line held off on putting the characters on those ships until they could be introduced on Allure.

Company officials are calling Allure "the entertainment ship," taking a page from Norwegian's Epic, which debuted this summer boasting of its many entertainment options. A musical parade on Allure's Royal Promenade features DreamWorks characters and is reminiscent of -- although not as large or complicated as -- a parade at a Disney theme park. And in press kits handed to members of the media on a preview cruise was a headband with a pair of ears -- only these were green, like Shrek's.

To someone who has cruised on Oasis, Allure will feel familiar. The differences are not architectural but are in how the space is used.

Living large

Allure's vital statistics are the same as those of Oasis. The ship is 1,187 feet long, 215 feet wide, stands 213 feet above the water line, has 16 passenger decks, and carries 5,400 guests at double occupancy (6,318 if every berth is filled). It is an enormous ship.

Allure is 37 percent bigger than Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class ships, based on gross tonnage, with much of the increase in the ship's width. It is that width that accommodates Central Park and the inside staterooms that have balconies overlooking the park; the Boardwalk, with the AquaTheater and carousel; and the Royal Promenade, which houses shops and restaurants and the DreamWorks parade -- features that make the Oasis-class ships unique.

The novelty of the two huge ships, as well as their amenities, are commanding high prices. Of the 16 ships sailing week-long cruises of the eastern Caribbean in March from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral, Oasis has the highest fare on Cruises.com: $1,265 per person double occupancy for the cheapest inside cabin. Allure is next highest at $1,149, followed by the Disney Magic at $1,089. Even Celebrity, Royal Caribbean's usually pricier sister company, costs less -- $759-$859, depending on the ship. All the others start at less than $700.

"In South Florida, since we know Royal Caribbean so well, people love Royal Caribbean," said Mary Beth Casey, owner of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, a Weston travel agency.

"DreamWorks puts them in direct competition with Norwegian, but the point of view our clients have is 1 / 8the Oasis-class ships are 3 / 8 a notch above," she said. "The Disney product is excellent, it's unique in its own way, but Oasis and Allure are going to give them a lot of competition."

When Royal Caribbean introduced Oasis of the Seas a year ago, Goldstein said, many people asked if a ship so large would work and whether it would sell. "Both ships are doing phenomenonally well," he said, and no one is asking those questions anymore.

Why are people willing to pay a premium to sail on Oasis and Allure?

"There is a sense of people wanting to be on the newest ship," said Casey. "Some of that is wanting the experience, some of it is being able to brag about it. And here in South Florida, it's just easier to understand what's special and different. I think it's the totality of the full uniqueness of it."

The uniqueness of the Oasis-class ships is largely in its seven "neighborhoods," especially Central Park, the Boardwalk and the Royal Promenade, but also Entertainment Place, with the main theater, casino, ice rink and several clubs; the Pool & Sports Zone, with two surf pools, Zip Line, and other recreational facilities; the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center; and the Youth Zone, with arcades, lounges, art and science labs and other kids programs, divided by age groups.

Special effects

Royal Caribbean has tweaked those zones to give Allure its own personality. Among the differences: