|Guests stream into the entrance to the Ultimate Abyss. // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
|The Ultimate Abyss // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
Travel Agent was onboard a preview sailing of Royal Caribbean International's 5,479-passenger Harmony of the Seas, the line's third Oasis-class ship.
Combining Quantum- and Oasis- class features on a grand scale, the 226,963-grt ship spans 16 guest decks with seven neighborhoods, including the popular Central Park and Boardwalk areas.
Our favorite jaw-dropping features? Top of our list was the “Ultimate Abyss,” a 100-foot-long slide cascading down 10 decks in the aft section of the ship.
Riders climb stairs leading to the slide platform, walk over the clear platform suspended above a more than 90-foot drop, and then enjoy a thrilling multi-sensory experience during the slide itself.
Thrills? Data from a Royal Caribbean test of the slide, as supervised by Professor Brendan Walker, director, Thrill Laboratory, UK, revealed that the slide experience caused heartbeats to increase by an average of 44 beats per minute compared to the resting rate for a 30-year-old adult of average fitness.
Check out our video below, which speaks far better than words. Simply put, the slide was short, thrilling and over too quickly, but lots of fun.
When the ship is totally full on a regular sailing, there likely could be longer lines, but we liked that the Harmony of the Seas has other adrenaline inducing options nearby on deck 16, including a zip-line and two Flowrider surfing pools.
Also new is the Perfect Storm, a thrilling trio of water slides. Those looked fabulous, but we weren’t able to try them as they weren’t operational during our visit
|The coiled course of the Perfect Storm trio of waterslides atop the ship // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
“We added less than 10 feet to the width of the ship, but this change has had tremendous impact on the weight that can be placed upon the ship’s beams, allowing for more height, thereby enabling creation of the Ultimate Abyss and our first waterslides,” Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., told journalists onboard.
Harmony of the Seas is longer than Allure of the Seas at 1,188 feet, and it has a beam of nearly 216 feet.
More Snazzy Features
|Kids have their own version of a rock climbing wall. // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
The new ship, also the fastest in Royal Caribbean’s fleet and 20 percent more energy efficient than Allure of the Seas, is a city unto itself.
|Aqua Theatre // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
Guests will discover 42 restaurants and bars; four swimming pools, including an adults-only pool in the Solarium; multiple whirlpools and FlowRider surfing pools; a large ice rink; multiple theaters; a casino; a full-service spa; shops; rock climbing walls; and more.
Entertainment-wise, much is new. The 600-seat Aqua Theatre has two new water shows. “Fine Line” features extreme stunts and acrobatics, while “Hideaway Heist” is a comedy dive show.
The ship also offers the line's first dedicated Puzzle Break escape game, and the Attic is a new comedy club. Plus, guests can expect improved versions of top Quantum- and Oasis-class experiences in dining and entertainment.
New productions include the musical "Grease" -- for the first time at sea -- and "1887: a Journey in Time", a fun new French-themed ice show.
According to Nick Weir, Royal Caribbean's vice president of entertainment, the line spent a year getting the show rights and then another to create, stage and choreograph the production. On our cruise, the crowd loved it, singing along the entire show.
|A scene from "1887: a Journey in Time", a new French-themed ice show // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
Personally, we were more impressed with "1887: A Journey in Time," with its costumed ice performers in historic French garb; the production unfolded against a backdrop of ultra high-definition video designed to resembled the Seine. It's a great show for kids of all ages.
What else is new? “Much investment has continued in technology to appeal to younger passengers,” stressed Fain, citing a dedicated satellite which enables the high-speed VOOM Internet service and a Royal IQ app for quick check-in and the booking of dining and activities.
In addition, the ship uses a razzle-dazzle new RFID (radio frequency identification) system to track bags, stateroom entry and onboard charges.
Specialty Dining on Harmony of the Seas
|Wonderland, a new specialty restaurant with whimsical theming, overlooks Harmony of the Seas' Boardwalk. // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
Harmony of the Seas has eight specialty restaurants, including the first two-story, 122-seat Wonderland. The concept initially launched on the Quantum-class vessels, but this is the largest of those offerings. Jamie’s is the first such eatery on an Oasis-class vessel, and also has more space than on the Quantum-class ships.
Of the eight specialty restaurants onboard, we best loved the two-story Wonderland, loosely based on the Lewis Carroll novel and Johnny Depp movie. It’s a fantastical experience with a tunnel like-entry, whimsical art and waiters in purple velvet jackets.
|A savory steak presentation at Wonderland // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
|A chocolate dessert is set ablaze to reveal moist cake inside. // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
Fun touches abound. We loved the menu that revealed itself only after you painted it with a special brush. An appetizer of deviled eggs appeared from beneath a dome of smoke.
A "wow" moment was when a dessert was set ablaze (see photo at left) to melt an outer chocolate shell -- revealing a moist, delicious cake.
The taste and quality of the food was spot on, particularly the memorable main courses -- crispy fried branzino atop fluffy rice, a tender duo of filet and short ribs, and a rich slice of pork belly.
All entrees are served to be shared so guests dining together can try everything.
While a two-night preview sailing is clearly not a “regular” sailing, we did feel Wonderland's food and service during our voyage rivaled some high-end restaurants we'd find in London or New York.
We hope that high quality continues as the ship begins its regular schedule of sailings. If so, it’s definitely worth the $49 per person surcharge.
Izumi, a Japanese dining venue, is the first of those restaurants in the fleet to offer teppanyaki. So 24 diners can now enjoy the chef’s sizzling show on the grill.
With just 70 seats for sushi, it’s best to book clients for a meal here as soon as they confirm a sailing.
We also sampled the Italian cuisine at Jamie’s ($20 per person at lunch, $30 per person at dinner), Latin dishes at Sabor, and high-end continental fare with multi-course tasting menus and wine pairings at 150 Central Park.
|Sabor is a popular specialty dining venue on Harmony of the Seas. // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
These are all more intimate than the main dining rooms. All specialty dining venues carry surcharges and online pre-booking is essential.
|Dog House on the Boardwalk // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
For a casual, yummy treat, definitely check out the Dog House on the Boardwalk. We loved this experience where cruisers can choose from seven different kinds of succulent hot dogs with toppings of grilled onions, peppers and sauerkraut, served in a soft bun.
Drinking spots worth a mention? Certainly, you shouldn’t miss the mesmerizing Bionic Bar, where two robotic arms create cocktails from 160 suspended bottles and 16 mixers.
We also liked the concept of the Rising Tide Bar, essentially a pod of cocktail tables on a platform that rises and drops – seemingly floating between three decks. Vintages is the place if you love wine, as it has an impressive selection.
The new ship's increased width means slightly larger accommodations than on other Oasis-class vessels. That's particularly true for the staterooms on decks six and up.
Virtual balconies, a signature of Quantum-class ships, are also offered in 76 of Harmony of the Seas' inside cabins, a first for an Oasis-class ship.
We stayed in stateroom #9264, a 272-square-foot Ocean View Stateroom with an 80-square-foot balcony. The stateroom felt spacious with a king bed, sofa, desk and two wardrobes with shelves, drawers and a safe.
We toured many other accommodations and particularly liked #8660, a 371-square-foot Grand Suite with Balcony; the king bed area is separated from the living space with a half-wall \ half-curtain divider. This Grand Suite also has a large marble bathroom with two sinks.
|View from the Presidential Family Suite // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
Most luxurious and spacious for families? It’s #12640, the 1,142-square-foot Presidential Family Suite, which can accommodate up to 14 guests.
It has four bedrooms -- two with king beds, two with bunk beds -- and sofa beds. There is also an additional sofa bed in the main living room. Most spectacular is the 476-square-foot balcony with whirlpool, dining area and bar.
|The Royal Family Suite, #10244, has a spacious living room with convertible sofa. // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
|Bunk beds in family accommodations // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
The Royal Family Suite, #10244, is 580 square feet with two king bedrooms with vanities, a nook with bunk beds, a spacious living room with convertible sofa, plus a 238-square-foot balcony.
Modest family rooms designed to sleep six are also available.
For example, #11149, a Family Interior Stateroom, has no window or balcony but is well laid out with more than 260 square feet of space. It has a king bed, sofa that converts to a double, and a nook with bunk beds.
Royal Suite Class Program
Royal Caribbean has just rolled out a three-tiered Royal Suite Class program for guests staying in suites (excluding junior suites). The three tiers are Sea, Sky and Star class.
Benefits range from access to dinner in the 100-seat Coastal Kitchen on Deck 17 for Sea Class to Suite Lounge access, concierge services, priority bookings and free VOOM for Sky Class.
|Royal Genies (butlers) await guests in Star Class suites. // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
The most robust perks come with Star Class. Ten suites on Harmony of the Seas qualify for this level of amenities.
Included are all the features in Sea and Sky class, plus access to a Suite Sun Deck, a beverage package, free movies, spa classes and exclusive activities such as bridge, galley and back stage tours.
An added level of pampering for Star Class is the Royal Genie butler who greets you and tends to your every need, creating bespoke experiences and excursions. So guests in these top suites will be whisked to the front of any line, generally ensuring they never wait or want for anything on Harmony of the Seas.
The Star Class Suite guests will fill out a questionnaire before the cruise so the butler will begin preparations for their arrival – making sure they have everything needed. If it’s in the client’s budget, Star Class is the best way to navigate a trip aboard Harmony of the Seas.
Pampering and Fitness
Top features of the Vitality at Sea Spa include a thermal suite with heated ceramic loungers, saunas and steam rooms. Twenty-nine spa treatment rooms include three couples' massage suites and seven individual treatment rooms – the largest collection at sea.
|The Fitness Center has a wide selection of machines. // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
Kids and teens have a dedicated spa of their own, YSPA. Certainly, the Fitness Center impresses with its large selection of cardio and weights machines; yoga, Pilates, TRX, spin studio and kick boxing classes; and personal trainers available to assist.
Beyond the Ultimate Abyss and water slides, guests can head one deck below -- to Deck 15 – for mini-golf, a sport court and ping pong. That area nicely flows into the family areas, including the Teen Zone, an arcade, Fuel (the teen night club) and Puzzle Break.
|Splashaway Zone // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
As you continue on to the bow, you’ll see the aptly named Splashaway Zone with water fun for kids and then the trio of waterslides.
On Deck 14, the central Kids Avenue boulevard links such spaces as the Royal Babies & Tots nursery and Adventure Ocean, the line’s supervised kids’ club with activity rooms that range from arts and crafts to a kids' theatre.
Around the ship, you’ll also see Dreamworks characters floating around the restaurants at times. The Boardwalk neighborhood is home to a large colorful carousel and carnival games. Plus, the ship has rock climbing walls.
A Gallery Afloat
With so much to see and do onboard, we asked Fain about his biggest “wow factor” for Harmony of the Seas (besides the Ultimate Abyss). Fain answered, “The art.”
The ship's spectacular $6.5 million art collection brims with paintings, sculpture and other pieces displayed in public spaces and accommodations.
|Art in one of the stairwells on Harmony of the Seas // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
“Art is humanizing and brings intimacy to the space, creating a personal reaction for each guest,” said Fain. Indeed, art is everywhere on this vessel. More than 3,000 unique pieces from 60 countries were curated by International Corporate Art.
Displayed in the midst of the Royal Promenade, the ship’s signature smart art piece is the five-ton “Head,” a three-dimensional metallic human head by Czech artist David Cerny.
From our perspective, though, we were more impressed with the installations along the stairwells; each landing has an imaginative piece along with information about the artwork and the artist.
|Harmony of the Seas docked at Southampton // Photo by Emily Goldfischer|
Harmony of the Seas' Itineraries
Harmony of the Seas was completed slightly ahead of schedule, allowing for a few short cruises out of Southampton, UK, in May.
The new ship's maiden voyage began May 29, arriving in Barcelona, Spain, on June 5. The ship will then operate seven-night western Mediterranean sailings for the summer and early fall, beginning June 7.
In November, Harmony of the Seas will reposition and home port at Port Everglades, FL, where will sail alternating seven-night eastern and western Caribbean sailings.