By Paul Motter
In the last six months I have seen three brand new "largest ships yet" from three different cruise lines; Norwegian Epic from NCL; Disney Dream from Disney and the Allure of the Seas - technically the world's largest cruise ship by 50 millimeters.
Aside from breaking size barriers, each of these three ships has another trick up its sleeves - animated cartoon characters jumping off the movie screen and onto the decks of a cruise ship near you. As they say, tricks are for kids.
Cruise ships are now inundated fluorescent, oversized lions, cats, hippos, fishes, ogres and ogrettes with proportionately short arms and legs connected to extremely over-sized heads. These creatures never blink and can't stop their sardonic smiles, yet they still manage to speak in booming, ethereal voices - without moving their lips. Its like the newest Hollywood sequel to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
There are the usual suspects; every famous cat, dog, mouse or princess is immortalized. There is a very big creature that looks almost human except that he is bright green and has funnel-shaped antennae instead of ears, the ogre Shrek and his smaller female counterpart Fiona. There are lots of penguins, which are always much wiser and street-smarter than expected. "Puss in Boots" is a cat, in boots, but as a constant womanizer he is anything but a "puss." Raccoons, lions, hippos and even a dragon fill the bills.
There are also far less rational characters on these new ships. SpongeBob SquarePants is a sponge who wears proudly wears pants - but the most disturbing character has to be "Goofy Goober," described biologically as a sea-peanut but appearing more like a more like - well, a blob of snot.
How Did this Invasion Start?
Cartoon characters coming to life is as old as Disneyland where Micky Mouse has been holding court for over 60 years. The first cruise line to have Disney characters was Premier Cruises in the 1990s, also the first line to sail out of Port Canaveral, the official port for Orlando's Disney World. Looking for someone to blame for this invasion of the body snatchers? Google Bruce Nierenberg.
When Disney Cruise lines came to sea in 1998 they brought the Disney Character concession in house for their own cruise ships - putting an end to the great run of "Big Red Boats" from Premier Cruises. For most of the early 2000s Disney was the only cruise line to feature "character experiences" unless you count Carnival's FunShip Freddy. Then in early 2010 Norwegian Cruise Lines made a deal with Nickelodeon to feature their eclectic cast of characters; SpongeBob, Goofy Goober and the more recognizable creatures like Patrick, Dora and Diego.
Royal Caribbean Rolls Out DreamWorks
But now we have what may be the biggest rollout of cartoon characters yet, the DreamWorks Animation cartoon cast has invaded Royal Caribbean, and the cruise line is all in - giving Disney a run for their money. This is befitting for DreamWorks, the brainchild of Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose chosen role in life seems to be giving Disney a run for its money.
Royal Caribbean added dozens of full-time crewmembers just to implement the DreamWorks program on Allure of the Seas, including 10 additional character actors. Among the crewmembers are costume handlers who maintain the "skins" for the 25 different DreamWorks characters onboard the ship. There are two costumes for each character so one can be in the process of reconditioning while the other one is in active use.
When you consider Royal is also rolling this program out to three more ships: Liberty will get it in January, Oasis in February and Liberty in March, you see that altogether Royal Caribbean has to buy 200 costumes and hire 40 different actors to play these parts. The actors endure months of rehearsal to learn all of the choreography they must perform. Of course, all of the shows are pre-recorded but they are professionally choreographed.
The dances these DreamWorks characters must execute are no small feat. The one most people will see is the Royal Promenade parade called "Move It! Move It!" which features all of the DreamWorks characters coming out to be seen at least once, but also has many of the other Royal Caribbean parade elements; acrobats, stilt walkers, knights and princesses. Kung Fu Panda and Puss in Boots make special appearances. The parade is 30 minutes long and has over 90 different performers.
"Let Me Entertain You" is a sing and dance-along show on the modular AquaTheater dance floor (no furry characters get wet) starting with Madagascar creatures and finishing with Shrek and Fiona accompanied by a large cast of Allure entertainment staff members. This is the one where the kids are invited to get up on stage and dance along.
The most complex show is on ice show, exclusive to Royal Caribbean ships, where the cast of "How to Train Your Dragon" show you "the kind of adventures that happen when fire meets ice."
There are also "character breakfasts" scheduled featuring ogre cakes and other fun food. There is currenly no charge for these special meals unlike other cruise ships.
In addition - the DreamWorks characters will be visiting the kids' programs at the Oceaneers Club on a regular basis. But since the amount of time any character can spend in one of the costumes is limited to 20 minutes these visits will be special events.
The other aspect of the DreamWorks agreement is showing first-run DreamWorks films onboard in their full 3-D format. Megamind is already playing on Allure of the Seas, just as it is currently running in movie theaters nationwide. There is no charge to see the movies on the cruise ship.
Discuss the Allure of the Seas here: Seeing Allure of the Seas