Harmony of the Seas
A cruise ship unlike others
by Glenn J. Nashen
Planning to Cruise
Whether you’ve cruised a dozen or more times, like me, or it’s your very first trip at sea, it takes a fair amount of planning to make sure that you meet your cruise vacation goals and expectations. Once you’ve got your basics like who you’ll travel with, what time of the year you’re travelling, what’s your budget and which region of the world you’d like to see, drill down deeper and consider ports of call, on-board activities and ship amenities. Having cruised the Caribbean many times I was less interested in picking ports this time and focused on which ship would take me there. I thought it would be fun to vacation on the largest cruise ship in the world and build an experience that Nikki, my teenage daughter, and I could share. This helped me easily choose Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis-class vessel, the Harmony of the Seas.
Launched in 2015 this daunting cruise ship was sure to create a lasting impression. Would it be way too large with an unbelievable 6800 passengers and 2200 crew, or would we literally be swept away in the vast array of amenities, activities and dining options? We hoped for the latter and as we approached Port Everglades cruise terminal in Fort Lauderdale goose bumps began forming as we set our sights on this absolutely massive and majestic vessel that dwarfed other ships that we had previously traveled on.
My goodness, I thought. Boarding will take all day. We were pleasantly shocked that RCI thought things out for us and through predetermined boarding times and well laid out line distribution we swiftly passed through security points and check-in and baggage drop off quicker than a short haul commute at your local airport. Greeters already had our photos from our online registration and welcomed us by name. This was great, and we were still on dry land!
As you step on board you are immediately overtaken by sight and sound and the perception that you’ve entered another dimension. How could this be a ship? We’ve just entered the enormous Royal Promenade, something akin to a magnificent Las Vegas hotel concourse, with upscale, glitzy shops, restaurants, bars, live music and performers with smiling faces. We stopped, stared incredulously all around us, eyes and jaw wide open. Unreal! This was going to be one incredible week!
Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships are designed around neighbourhood themes which lend themselves toward the grandeur of these floating mega-resorts. There are seven neighbourhoods in all including the Royal Promenade, with its futuristic Bionic Bar, where guests sit in wonderment watching the robotic arms prepare mixed drinks that have been ordered on an iPad. There are no human bartenders or servers here.
Central Park is unlike any area we had previously seen on a ship. This natural greenspace, surrounded by inside balconies, has over 10,000 plants and trees, a meandering cobblestone path with benches for relaxing in the garden setting or for people-watching, not to mention the upscale restaurants and shops.
The Boardwalk is a scene out of Coney Island with a full size merry-go-round, two rock climbing walls hanging off the back of the ship, the impressive Aqua Theatre, as well as 50s style diner, café, Mexican restaurant and gift shops.
The Sports Zone and pool area is action-packed with surf-style “Flow Riders”, the zip-line, the Ultimate Abyss (a 10-storey drop in a darkened slide/tube that’s not for the queasy), mini golf, toddler splash pad, beach-entry pool and so much more. Get there early each day and beat the crowds.
The Spa and Fitness Centre is the perfect spot to unwind or to work out in a luxurious, comfortable environment with quiet areas for lounging inside and out, healthy snack options and a tropical buffet restaurant. No kids in this neighbourhood. I enjoyed my daily recumbent exercise bike rides pedaling through Paris and the French countryside.
The Entertainment Place is the spot for theatre productions, casino fun, comedy and jazz clubs, art auctions and an unbelievable, world-class ice skating show. We were here almost every night for top-notch, fun shows.
Finally, the Youth Zone brings action and fun to children of all ages including the teen disco, video arcade and wait, there’s more! The waterslides rival the best water parks. Basketball and soccer… Outdoor movies… Steel drum bands… Poolside DJs… All-you-can-lick ice cream at the self-serve station… Dive shop… Very tasty (all-hours) pizza… Jogging track… The list of places to visit and things to do is seemingly endless.
And just a word on the shopping on board. It’s phenomenal! From high end boutiques to bazaar-style low cost sales every day, all duty and tax free.
Off-Broadway style Entertainment
The larger the ship the bigger and better the shows. We’ve enjoyed smaller ships and their classy and intimate entertainment but there’s no comparison with what Harmony had to offer in its big stage performance of Grease that rivaled any Broadway performance. The singing, dancing and acting were all outstanding. The staging and costumes were spectacular. The show was far from the typical Broadway review that cruise lines staged for decades. This was the real deal!
Even the second big theatre production, Columbus, The Musical, was beyond expectations – funny and entertaining. Really a smash hit. The two ice shows featured world-class figure skaters and ice dancers most of whom excelled in the Olympics or International competitions. We couldn’t believe the talent, on a ship yet!
Action for All Ages
Thrill seeking adventurer or simply young at heart — the Harmony’s got you covered. Our strategy was to go right for the popular zipline as soon as we got onboard and avoid the lines. While the rookie cruisers walked about not knowing where to begin we quickly dumped our bags and headed straight for the sports deck. Great move as there was almost no one waiting and we did it twice. Now this was no ride of a lifetime but it did take us high atop the centre of the ship and over a scary nine open decks of inside balconies. Short and sweet, we got our thrills.
From there we didn’t waste a moment and skedaddled to the Flow Rider, a powerful jet stream to simulate surfing. Nikki watched others get up and splash down for about 30 minutes till it was her turn. The instructors were fun and patient and she had plenty of time to get up on her knees on the boogie board, sliding from side to side. Again, great, safe fun in the hot sun. Amazing video opp!
Dining Experiences to Suit All Tastes
Although cruise lines are focused on upselling their specialty restaurants, compete to sign up the most famous chefs, renowned brands and unique dining experiences, rest assured that the standard options are way more than, well, standard. The main dining rooms offer ample choices for all tastes at every meal. Sometimes dressy and usually casual. Of course, the buffet dining choices are also plentiful throughout the day and are easy options if you can’t think about changing out of shorts and T-shirt.
We ate all dinners except one in the Silk Dining Room where our very personable server treated us like royalty, remembering our names, preferences, likes and dislikes. We tried a larger table with older couples and mostly preferred a table for two where we had ample time to relax and dine at our leisure, enjoying every glorious bite, and always ending with a slight of hand or other trick by the adoring wait staff.
We’ll Be Back
With so much to do on this colossal vessel I’ve almost forgotten to mention how much fun we had in St. Maarten, Labadee and San Juan, great ports with much to see and do (but we’ll save that for another time).
If you time it right the value of cruising is unbeatable, sometimes around $100 a day. When you think about the cost of meals, activities and entertainment you’d be hard pressed to find a resort competitive with the cost of cruising. Such was the case on Harmony of the Seas. It was no wonder that the Next Cruise area on the Promenade Deck was always busy. With 15 cruises under my belt I am so ready to book the next. And it might be back here on the Harmony of the Seas!