The world's biggest cruise ship — four football fields long, 16 passenger-decks high and featuring a tree-lined park, Starbucks Café and 3D movie theatre — arrived at Port Everglades this morning.
The just-built Allure of the Seas is the sister to the year-old Oasis of the Seas, which also calls Port Everglades its home base. But according to its captain, Allure is almost 2 inches bigger.
Like Oasis, Allure cost $1.5 billion to build. It can hold at least 5,400 passengers and 2,400 crew — more than some towns. It's nearly 50 percent bigger than the next largest cruise ships. And it offers features that other cruises don't, from Broadway shows to an Atlantic City-style boardwalk.
Allure will sail weekly from Port Everglades to the eastern and western Caribbean starting next month, alternating the same routes with Oasis. It will sail out Sundays and Oasis on Saturdays, because even the new $75 million terminal built at Port Everglades for the super-sized ships can't hold both at the same time, said Adam Goldstein, chief executive for cruise-line Royal Caribbean International.
Business from Allure and Oasis should help Fort Lauderdale surpass Miami as the world's busiest cruise port by 2013, becoming the "cruise capital of the world," said Port Everglades Director Phil Allen.
Already, Oasis has helped Port Everglades smash its previous records for cruise traffic. The port hosted 3.3 million passengers in or out on multi-day cruises in the year ended Sept. 30. That's up 17 percent from the previous year — before Oasis began trips often carrying 6,000 passengers a week, Allen said.
"It's not just a ship. It's a destination in itself," said Allen of the Oasis-class vessels.
Royal Caribbean is upping the ante with guest offerings on Allure — even compared to Oasis, which wowed passengers at its 2009 debut.
Allure touts a partnership with DreamWorks Animation that lets it host characters from such DreamWorks films as "Shrek," "Madagascar," "Kung Fu Panda" and "How to Train Your Dragon." The DreamWorks characters will appear in parades, in theater performances, at the aqua theatre and in ice-skating shows.
Traveling on the feature-filled Allure and Oasis costs more than most Caribbean cruises. An inside stateroom starts at around $1,000 per person for the week, while a suite with balcony can run more than $4,000. That includes lots of entertainment onboard, even the Broadway musical "Chicago."
Add in spa treatments and other extras paid onboard, plus excursions at Caribbean destinations, and the cost can run thousands of dollars more — as much as a vacation in Las Vegas or other top cities, but with the benefit of visiting several nations without having to move bags, cruise executives say.
Passengers have been paying the premium for the Oasis-class ships so far. Oasis has been posting strong business since its debut, and Allure should do well too — even in today's slow economy, according to cruise industry consultant Rod McLeod of McLeod.Applebaum & Partners.
Cruise enthusiasts are eager to try out the new mega-ships. That includes Europeans and South Americans whose strong currencies stretch further these days than the weak dollar, McLeod said.
Furthermore, Royal Caribbean has been careful to deploy other vessels from the Caribbean to Europe, Asia and other destinations, so that the new mega-ships don't erode the company's business in the Caribbean, McLeod said.
Proof of Royal Caribbean's success came in its third-quarter earnings report. The Miami-based company said profits jumped 55 percent from last year to reach nearly $357 million. And it forecast a new record in earnings-per-share for 2011, when both Oasis and Allure will be sailing.
Even so, there's no sibling to Oasis and Allure planned for now.
"I don't think you are going to see ships like that ordered to three to five years," McLeod said, citing the slow U.S. market. "And I don't see anyone going bigger, because the limitation becomes the port of call."
Indeed, Royal Caribbean's Goldstein sees his biggest challenge short-term as readying the $200 million dock complex being developed at Jamaica's port of Falmouth to handle the Oasis and Allure. The two ships are expected to begin calling at historic Falmouth starting in March.