I had been hearing for months and months about the new Royal Caribbean ship that was being launched in May 2016 from the UK which was set to become the largest cruise ship in the world. Having been lucky enough to be on board the pre-inaugural sailing of Anthem of the Seas in 2015 (which I loved) I was keen to see this even bigger vessel. Imagine my delight when a friend was invited on the pre-inaugural sailing of Harmony of the Seas and asked me to be her bunk mate!
It was a drizzly Friday in May but we set out for Southampton with excitement bringing sunshine to our hearts and plans to make as much of the experience as possible. We parked at the port and jumped on a shuttle bus to the ship. We could see it looming ahead as we drove nearer and although I knew it would be large the sheer scale certainly took my breath away. Indeed it seems it’s size had even surprised the port as due to the scale the air bridge was not big enough to get us on board as had been planned and we actually boarded on a crew deck! As previously we whipped through check-in and customs and were on board in what seemed like minutes. Our plan was already in place… dump stuff in stateroom (superior oceanview with balcony… nice) and head to Johnny Rockets on the Boardwalk to meet some friends, enjoy an epic lunch and decide what to see first.
There was a bit of a queue, seems everyone had the same idea, but we were kept entertained by watching people popping out of the bottom of the Ultimate Abyss. These twin 100ft dry slides plummet down 10 passenger decks from the top deck of the ship to the boardwalk. We heard many men shrieking like girls and a fair few obscenities too whilst we enjoyed our lunch of hot dogs, fries and chocolate milkshakes at this 50’s style diner. The boardwalk is just one of seven different neighbourhoods on board this goliath of a ship and is home to several eateries, the AquaTheater and a proper carousel ride. After our lunch we watched some of the performers rehearsing in the Aquatheater, possibly the most terrifying I have seen in my life, and then headed off to explore.
The Royal Promenade was next on our hit list. there are plenty of bars, restaurants and shopping opportunities here. We wandered through the Promenade, watched the robot bartenders mix a few drinks at the Bionic Bar and marvelled at the artwork and scale of it all before hitching a lift on the Rising Tide Bar, up several decks before emerging in our next neighbourhood, Central Park. You don’t expect to find an open air park in the middle of a ship but this is a beautiful one with landscaping, trees and plenty to see. Many of the specialty restaurants are located here, including Jamie’s Italian and Chops Grille…. we stopped for tasters in each!
By this point it was time for muster drill so we could set sail for our two night adventure and then a quick change in time for dinner which we enjoyed in the main dining room. As we sat down for dinner we set sail down the Solent and saw the shore line filled with people come out to see this first sailing of the largest cruise ship in the world and I felt very lucky to be on board. We choose from an excellent menu and I chose three of my three favourite meals – French onion soup, fillet mignon and crème brûlée. I had not expected such an excellent steak on baord a ship of this scale but it was one of the best it has ever been my fortune to enjoy. As people who like to try new things my dining companions and I ordered a plate of escargot. I had never experienced eating snails before and all I could think of was the line from Transformers where Shia LaBeoufs Mum says of snails “It looks like Canadian Goose poop” and she was not wrong. It tasted pretty much as I had expected, like a meaty mushroom, not really bad but I’m not going to say good either…. but I just couldn’t get over the fact I was eating a snail! At least I can say I tried!
After dinner we headed back to the Royal Promenade to see The Wild Boys perform. They are a fantastic British 80’s cover band who we have seen several times before and always enjoy. We danced the rest of the night away, first with the Wild Boys, then in Dazzles nightclub, before finishing up in the wee small hours in the attic. As is becoming our tradition we finished the night with a couple of slices of pizza in Sorrento’s back on the Royal Promenade before collapsing into our very comfortable beds.
Just a few short hours later (too few) we arose and headed off to do the unthinkable…. use the gym! Yes I am one of those people who actually use a gym on a cruise ship, we are few and far between, but we are dedicated! This was a well equipped and had plenty of space and lucky for us was situated very close to our stateroom! Attempting to run in a straight line on a treadmill on board a moving ship is always a challenge, as is trying to stay upright whilst doing yoga, but after a successful workout we had worked up an appetite and were ready for our breakfast in the Windjammers marketplace.
We headed out to the very windy top deck after breakfast to see what was in store and we were not disappointed. This ship has, including whirlpools, 23 pools, two Flowrider surfing simulators, three water slides, a waterpark, sports court, numerous table tennis tables, an arcade, zip-line, an adults only solarium and a self-service frozen yoghurt machine (nom)….. and that’s just on the top deck! Of course this is also where the top of the Ultimate Abyss is and we had a good nose at that as well. Unfortunately there was one glaring problem with all these awesome open deck spaces and outside facilities, we were only just off the coast of the UK still and British weather sucks. The Ultimate Abyss and waterslides stayed closed for the whole day due to the wind and you certainly didn’t feel like taking a dip! This I can imagine is amazing in the sunny weather but in the unpredictable climate of Northern Europe I longed for the indoor facilities which Anthem of the Seas had offered so beautifully the previous year.
Next we had a guided tour of the Kids club areas. These were really great with so much for kids to do and great to allow them to socialise with kids from other countries. If I had children on board one of these cruises I would certainly palm them off to the kids clubs!
Time for a few more tasting as out tummies started to rumble again and we tried samples in the stunning ‘Wonderland’ restaurant, thinks Heston Blumenthal meets Alice in Wonderland, and Sabor, a Mexican inspired restaurant back on the Boardwalk. With 20 dining venues on board there is always going to be something to eat no matter what your tastes…. hence my need to go to the gym! The afternoon offered a special preview performance of “Grease” in the spectacular Royal Theatre. This West End quality show was absolutely stunning and very true to the film and original play. This was the first time the cast had performed the show to an audience and they certainly earned their standing ovation, excellent.
Dinner offered more of the same from the previous night, with Sea Bass and baked Alaska. We had a few drinks in the Bonnet and Boot pub after dinner before more dancing the night away in Dazzles.
Having spent two days on board this amazing ship there was so much we didn’t get to see. We saw the ice-skating rink but didn’t manage to catch any of the shows, likewise the AquaTheater we only saw rehearsals for and it would have been amazing to see a full show. This is definitely a ship you can spend a week on and never get bored… even if you never set foot in any of the amazing destination you sail too, but that would be a waste! I would say this is a ship for sunny climates and I would love to stay on it in say the Caribbean… although I would stay in a lifeboat in the Caribbean! I still think I prefer the Quantum Class ships but Royal Caribbean never disappoint with their vessels and I would happily sail with them time and again…. I can’t wait for the next one!
Top Tips for Cruising
Find the cruise line which suits you…. this is crucial. If you are a family or young couple who want to be active and make the most of your adventure Royal Caribbean is perfect, however an older couple who want to enjoy some peace and quiet might not find this the right line for them, try Fred. Olsen or Cruise & Maritime Voyages. Do some research, speak to an expert, don’t book in haste and don’t be afraid to haggle on the price, there are bargains to be found!
Be prepared to go offline. Even when Wi-Fi is provided it is often expensive to use and unreliable on most cruise ships. Don’t be afraid to be offline for a while, enjoy some peace connect with the people around you instead of the ones inside your phone! Research ports in advance, often it is easier to explore ports on your own than you might think and there are shuttle buses into cities which are much cheaper than booking a full excursions. Just be sure to be back in time for departure, your ship won’t wait for you if you are not on one of their shore excursions.
Be aware of hidden costs. There are many hidden costs to a cruise including shore excursions, pricey drinks, gratuities and much more. Cruise lines often has deals running which include some of these costs in your cruise fare or offer onboard spending money which you can use to cover these costs if you prefer. Ask at time of booking.
Be ware of alcohol policies, legal drinking ages on board cruises which visit the US is always 21 and all lines have their own policies. Check the policy before you book. Likewise a few lines will let you bring your own alcohol on board whilst others will not, this also applies to alcohol bought in port, check those rules or you might have your booze confiscated until you disembark.
Try something new… even if it doesn’t work out… I can now say I’ve tried snails even if they looked like poop…. face your fears and live to tell the tale!