NEAR PERFECT HARMONY!
By PATRIC BAIRD on board Harmony of the Seas…
ROYAL Caribbean has a brand new addition to its 25-strong fleet – weighing in at 226,963-GRT and with a length of 1188 feet, Harmony of the Seas is not only Royal Caribbean’s largest ship, but it is currently the largest cruise ship ever built.
Delivered to Southampton from the St Nazaire shipyard in May 2016, I was lucky enough to be onboard along with a large group of travel agents and media for two days, in order to experience the ship in all its glory before she made her maiden voyage with paying passengers aboard.
The Harmony, along with sister ships Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, make up a trio collectively known as ‘Oasis’ class ships which are the world’s largest, and most technologically-advanced, passenger ships.
Standing twice as tall as the Washington Monument at 362 metres and with enough cabins to house 5479 guests and 2100 crew members, the sheer size of the vessel is stunning. I caught my first sight of the ship driving into Southampton – it was very hard to miss – as it towered over the docks, dwarfing all the other cruise ships which were alongside in the port.
All digital Check-in Process
Thanks to the all-digital check-in process – you can now complete the check-in process and print out both your luggage tags and SetSail pass at home – boarding can be completed in less than 10 minutes, thanks to a team of staff milling around in the terminal armed with electronic tablets. As soon as your passport has been swiped and you pass through the airport-style security scanner, you are free to board.
My stateroom on Deck 9 was very spacious, with plenty of storage for clothes and personal items, and featured a large flat-screen television, a mini-bar and sofa, even though it was a fairly standard cabin. Every budget is catered to, with cabins ranging from the cheapest inside rooms, to several magnificent loft suites arranged over two storeys. While all of the outside cabins feature open balconies, most of the windowless inside cabins are now equipped with a ‘virtual balcony’ - an 80-inch LED projection screen that stretches from floor to ceiling, offering high-resolution real-time views of the ocean and destinations which are visible from the ship’s exterior.
And that’s not the only novel experience which passengers on board the Harmony of the Seas can expect – the ship features many new brand attractions, as well as some of Royal Caribbean’s much-loved features. As with the other Oasis class ships, Harmony is divided into ‘Neighbourhoods’, which include the outdoor, tree-lined Central Park, featuring several of the ship’s premium dining establishments including Jamie’s Italian, as well as upmarket shops and boutiques.
The Coney Island-themed Boardwalk hosts a vintage-style carousel, several bars and shops, including a speciality hot-dog stall, a tequila bar and American diner Johnny Rockets, while the Royal Promenade contains the incredible Bionic Bar, where customers can enter their cocktail of choice onto a touch screen and watch it being mixed and served by a pair of robotic arms.
Thrill-seekers Well Catered For
Thrill-seekers are catered for as well, with a surf simulator, zip wire experience and rock climbing wall, all guaranteed to get the adrenaline pumping. But the main attraction for scaring yourself silly is the Ultimate Abyss – a 10 storey slide which is taller than Buckingham Palace, where participants enter the ‘Jaws of the Beast’ on Deck 16, ending up on Deck 6 12 seconds later, via a series of terrifying twists and turns. I opted out of the experience, but judging by the screams and squeals emanating from the slides, I have to assume that those braver than me were having an experience they wouldn’t forget in a hurry!
For the slightly more faint-hearted, Harmony features 23 swimming pools and waterslides, a mini-golf course, theatres, a DreamWorks 3D cinema and amusement arcades, while the on board spa is guaranteed to sooth away all the stresses and strains of modern life. Internet addicts will be pleased to hear that Royal Caribbean’s unique Voom wi-fi system is available all over the ship, meaning you can send pictures of your holiday to friends and family back home over the fastest internet at sea.
Of course, none of these activities are possible on an empty stomach – and on Harmony, there are 20 restaurants with over 300 individual menu options to choose from. Windjammer Marketplace provides an extensive buffet service for most of the day, while quick snacks are on offer all over the ship, ranging from mini corn dogs to Chinese dumplings at Mini-Bites to pizza slices at Sorrento’s.
Truly Imaginative Cuisine
While most dining options are free, guests can experience some truly imaginative cuisine at one of Harmony’s eight speciality restaurants for a nominal extra charge and these include high-end international fine dining at 150 Central Park and Coastal Kitchen, while Chops Grille serves a carnivore-friendly selection of hand-cut steaks, organic chicken and seafood.
The main dining room, where most guests will eat dinner during a cruise, is divided across three decks, featuring the individually-themed Silk, American Icon and The Grande. Here, you can decide on an early or later sitting, and whether you want to dine as a couple or at a larger table with other passengers.
After dinner, guests can enjoy a live performance of the hit musical Grease, head to Jazz on 4 for some smooth sounds, or a late-night comedy show. The Royal Theater also hosts live performances, while the Casino Royale has everything you might expect in any Las Vegas gambling establishment. There are also numerous bars and several discos, with karaoke at On Air and Latin vibes at Boleros.
There’s no doubt that Harmony of the Seas with its amusement park-themed activities will appeal mostly to fun-loving groups of friends, younger couples and families, while older voyagers will find more than enough attractions to keep them happy. The ship’s home port will be Barcelona until October, where it will offer 7-night sailings, visiting Palma de Mallorca, Marseille, Florence/Pisa, Rome and Naples, before moving to Fort Lauderdale in Florida, where it will begin sailings around the Caribbean until spring 2017.
For more details on Harmony of the Seas itinerary and booking information, visit royalcaribbean.co.uk.
Watch a video made during the pre-inaugural sailing of Harmony of the Seas by Northern Ireland Travel News - HarmonyShipTour.